Why Xhaka should not be Arsenal’s left back

Why Xhaka Shouldn’t Be Our Left Back by Dan Smith

I have often commented on how fickle a section of our fanbase can be. Based on two games against Sheffield United and Slavia Prague, many gooners are now appealing for Granit Xhaka to remain our left back till the end of the season.

That’s despite the level of opposition being a team bottom of the Premier League with 14 points and the Champions of a League ranked 15th by UEFA.

Let’s rewind back to 2018. Robbie, the host of AFTV, was defending a left back who had just conceded an 82nd minute penalty at Crystal Palace, pointing out that for three matches in a row we were forced to play someone out of position.

In previewing a trip to Anfield the following week, the majority of his guests agreed that we needed Kolasinac to be fit.

After a 5-1 humiliation many bemoaned the lack of backing from Stan Kroenke forcing Unai Emery to field a makeshift defence (it’s strange to see supporters believing we were going to invest that January).

Away from YouTube, other platforms insisted that the spot kick at Selhurst Park was the result of a clumsy tackle that wouldn’t have been made by someone natural to the role. They also suggested that the midfield missed his range of passing.

This was Twitter’s reaction to team news, ‘………. at left back. He’s too slow to play at LB.’

‘………left back? This is garbage.’

‘………at left back! What a time to be alive.’

‘ …….at left back against Zaha will be top banter’

The …….in question? That’s correct ……..Granit Xhaka!

Three years ago Unai Emery played the Swiss at left back in a Europa League fixture in a group we were already in control over. In other words he played against limited opposition when the stakes were not high.

3 days later against superior opposition he struggled, as many predicted he would.

They say things change but stay the same.

Three years on some of the same people are now celebrating Mikel Arteta’s tactical masterclass when we already know it doesn’t work.

Like under Emery you can get away with playing a CM at LB for certain games, but you will get caught out against the better sides, e.g. Villarreal, Man United or Roma.

Also like Emery found out, you take away quality from your midfield.
For all his critics, Xhaka controls the tempo. He’s not afraid to at least attempt a range of passing.

While it’s believed that Ceballos can deputise, it should again be considered the standard of our last two opponents.

In two campaigns how many great games has Ceballos had? Enough to be trusted to win us a Semi Final and Final.

While I accept our current manager long term wants a system where players alternate positions, so Xhaka can start in defence and step into midfield, it’s way too early to say we can win the Europa League with him as our left back.

More crucially, we need him in the centre.

Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.

Xhaka at left back didn’t work three years ago so why do it now when our season is on the line?

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Tags Ceballos Xhaka


  1. First time in agreement with Dan, and i wish to add in the comming season if we are to challenge (even 6th spot) we need an upgrade over Xhaka. Do we have it with us? I doubt AMN or some reserve can be asked to play 50+ games over a season against varying opposition. Thank the man for his intentions and efforts, it ends there for a top top club like us. Till the seasons end, he should play where he is least error prone – in the mid field. Off topic, Cedric is a bigger liability as a LB.

    1. Spot on LC…wrote this for a previous article but is more apropos for this discussion…

      Anyone who tries to use the past two games as the reason why Xhaka should remain at the club, let alone being reinstated as captain, is as short-sighted as our manager was when he decided to sign Willian and retool instead of doing the RIGHT thing…of course, nowadays Arteta’s all about the youth movement, but that makes perfect sense in light of his earlier failures

      please remind me how many times in the past two matches when you saw the opposition even test him with long passes, speed on the wings and/or overlapping runs…in fact in the Sheffield match the commentators were completely miffed that United hadn’t even tested him once and were sure that we would see them make a push up their right flanks come the second half, which simply never materialized…once again in the game last evening, no real push on his side…both managers should be terminated for this alone, but I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth…that said, no club worth a lick would do likewise, especially considering his lack of pace and/or his propensity to grab players when they get beyond him

      furthermore, several people are praising him for taking on the responsibilities of a “new” position, which to be honest is a bit rich…as a pivot in our base formation, he was constantly rotating into a deeper, wider sitting pseudo-LB position, especially when Tierney was bombing up the wings…so let’s make sure we look at the real facts and think reasonably about the future of this club…this constant game of what have you done for me lately has poisoned our club for far too long…it’s high time that we let common sense prevail and simply move on from any player who has no chance of taking us forward, especially if we can recoup some much-needed funds from their respective transfers elsewhere

  2. Making the fullbacks to stay behind is currently working for us, but this strategy won’t always work. I believe our last two oppositions expected our fullbacks to move forward and we surprised them with a different strategy

    We will need attacking fullbacks like Tierney and Bellerin in some matches. However, Fulham tend to attack from the wings, so better use Xhaka and Chambers to counter their wing play

  3. So the author knows better than Arteta, perhaps he would like to apply for the job if it becomes available? But I think he will disappear into the vortex before then!

    1. So you believe Arteta is always correct then do you PAL ?
      Was Arteta correct in giving Aubamayang a 3 year contract for a reported £300k per week and then realising he will not fit into his tactical planning?
      Was Arteta correct in selling Martinez and keeping Leno?
      Was Arteta correct in insisting the Club buy Willian?
      Want me to continue PAL?

      1. If you believe that Arteta has sole authority to dish out contracts and whom has to be sold to balance books and at the same time honour existing players contracts then you should take more notice of how Arsenal is run. PAL

        1. I do PAL
          And if you paid more attention then you would also know that Arteta was promoted from Coach to Manager anc had full say in who stayed and who was bought and sold.
          Wake up PAL
          Your behind the times
          You mug

        2. arteta has big role on the kind of players the club wants. I wonder how you shield his role in singing players that do not fit his tactics

  4. “Also like Emery found out, you take away quality from your midfield.
    For all his critics, Xhaka controls the tempo.”

    Finally someone writing the truth in an article.
    While we do need an upgrade, he’s very important to us. Do we need an upgrade on him? Definitely!! But it doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be appreciated just like fans normally out him in the dirt

    1. Eddie
      Currently xhaka is irreplaceable and needs to be in the team…I really can’t believe i wrote that and to for a lay down.
      I have been his biggest critic. We definitely need an up date and if he stays then he should be a bench warmer and not a regular starter next season
      For this season we are better with hom in the team
      As for the tempo. That’s the problem. He slows the tempo down …
      Had a great game at LB and as long as we have some one with legs to help him out when we get over run then he will do ok
      Credit to the team and pepe Thursday
      They all tracked back
      They all got back onto position when we lost the ball
      That’s the team I want to see
      No one bing carried Thursday
      All got a 10 of 10 from me

    2. he controls the tempo and our tempo is playing at a grandpa’s pace. so he is very much bad at his job.

    3. there are not many out there that does what he does…..

      he makes a good squad player

      sometimes good to have a different player for different strategy and formation

      1. I think that was the point. We don’t have many other options. Moving Saka out of position doesn’t seem to appealing, so its a straight choice between Cedric and Xhaka. Arteta seems to prefer the latter and it appears to be working for the moment at least.

  5. The game has evolved to facilitate different tactics and patterns of play for the same team that we haven’t seen before.

    Arteta it seems is trying to create a squad that can play multiple ways depending on the opposition, while Xhaka done well, I don’t think it would work against certain teams or certain players but I don’t doubt that was the last time we see him there.

    I personally would like to see a set team, a consistent back 4 and a team to find a rhythm. (And I rate Tierney highly) Arteta also alluded to it in his interview so I know it’s been difficult with the amount of games and players out and who knows we may have a team setup for certain games, may be even the Fulham game. Arteta is still learning also.

  6. This is uncalled for, all fans know it, that our left back is injured, the manager is right to try Xhaka on that position. This is a short term solution period

      1. cmion Saka is our best attacker, why play him at LB…. Cedric made it so obvious he can’t play there..and the season is too late to test run, we have everything to lose here. Zhaka is a professional who can blend easily to tactics. Let’s keep believing it will continue to work till Tierney comes back or the Summer!

        1. I just think by playing Saka lb he can still.get forward and it allows another attacker in the team
          Would maybe even go three at the back to push wing backs on
          What do you think Villarel would fear more
          Saka as an attacking full back or Xakha ?

  7. I wonder why we play Xhaka as L.B when Gabriel is on the bench.
    Despite being a C.B Gabriel is a better defender than Xhaka,i have seen him play in a back 3 on the left&i like his versatility.If I was the manager he would deputise Tieney until when we get another L.B

    1. Valid point, Cliff, given that both Xhaka and Gabriel are left footed. However I think Arteta wants to see against Fulham, how the Partey – Ceballos midfield combination develops. (I’m starting to sound like gotanidea! ).

  8. This is only a short term fix until the summer when hopefully we can buy a decent cover for Tierney who let’s face it is becoming a problem with his injuries. Don’t know what else Arteta can do at this moment in time.

      1. Bellerin left back ??
        Saka….take away what he gives us in attack
        Cedric ….any better than Xhaka at left back ?

  9. As Tierney is expected to be out of the season, who do we play for the rest of the season at Left back?

    Cedric is the only reasonable option if Xhaka will not be playing there.

    Xhaka 3 years ago and the Xhaka now are not much the same. There is an improvement in his gameplay under Arteta.

    I agree, he might struggle against better wingers and oppositions. But until it happens, we can never tell.

  10. I agree with you, Cliff. Gabriel will not play badly there. He is a natural left-footed defender. He has pace more than Xhaka. He can also play some good passes.

    Gabriel should cover for Tierney, instead of Xhaka against better oppositions.

      1. If Xhaka gets “skinned” by a fast right winger or RB and the Partey – Ceballos midfield is effective, then Xhaka may end up on the bench. As people say Gabriel or Saka can play LB, particularly as Arsenal has extra forward players, plus Odegaard will return.

  11. Xhaka should be sold next window. He’s been fine against low level opposition so far. Wouldn’t trust him with anything beyond that and would like to go back to Cedric there. I know people somehow rate him as a player even tho he would be laughed out of every single one of our “top 6” rivals squads.

    1. I need to wait and see how he does against better opposition.
      E.g. , if Cedric was left back I still think we beat the last two teams we played

  12. I am just worried if we played man United in a final we will sit there afterwards and say ‘ why was Xakha left back based on two games against poor teams ‘

  13. I thought the fact that Xhaka is not a left back (but can do a job if necessary), and is missed in the middle was self evident.
    We play very differently to accommodate and to avoid overly exposing him.
    I have a lot of time for him and his many attributes, but he’s a square peg in a round hole, obviously.

  14. Dan, Id suggest to you that insanity is also keeping playing (ponderous slow thinking , slow acting, “sending the opponents a second class letter telling them he proposes to pass the ball,” BEFORE passing the ball forward, for once!).

    Xhaka is still mainly in midfield, despite him proving over 5 years plus that he is rubbish there. Insanity is having him stay at the club at all, never mind LB!
    Insanity was when Wenger bought him and for both managers since who still play him. He is rubbish! If he gets any slower, he will stop(or turn into Mertesacker).

    1. Have to agree with every word Jon … he is a walking (literally as well as metaphorically) symbol of the decline of the club under 4 managers … if arteta somehow clings on by winning EL then this guy will drag him down if he retains his services … which I am sorry to say I believe he would … wouldn’t get much for him in today’s market but every little counts when rebuilding is the name of the game

  15. Speed is a problem for Granit, but there is no better player who can control the tempo of any game. I have watched games where the Swiss fell apart after Xhaka was subbed. Speed is a problem, but his Vista is excellent and he can hold a team together. Left back against a fast winger does not work, neither left wing back running up and down the left side. I see him slotting in when Thierney plays very offensive.

    1. His vista …. lol … 90 per cent of his passes are sideways or back … and half of those to players in a more limited position than himself .. the kind of vista we can do without!!

  16. I’ve seen games where Arsenal fell apart with Xhaka, senderos. He is not indispensable, however he is all Arsenal have to cover the left back position because Cedric is as dodgy as in that role. I think with Arsenal’s remaining schedule he should be able to do the job with the only real tests being Chelsea and possibly Man U. in a final.

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