Xhaka still must wait in the wings
Published 27/11/2016 | 02:30
Arsene Wenger admits Granit Xhaka is still adapting to life in the Premier League as his third most expensive signing of all time remains a peripheral figure at Arsenal.
Only Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez sit above the Switzerland international as the club's largest transfer spends, but it is almost impossible to imagine that pair being on the fringes of the starting line-up.
But that is exactly where Xhaka, signed this summer for a fee in the region of £34million, finds himself having started just five Premier League games since his arrival from Borussia Monchengladbach.
The 24-year-old was signed early on in the transfer window as Arsenal fans heralded another big-money deal - but he has found himself on the bench more often than not, despite the fact fellow midfielder Santi Cazorla is currently missing with an Achilles problem.
Xhaka's arrival was one of the catalysts for Jack Wilshere to request a loan move to play more football and he ended up making a temporary switch to Bournemouth. And it is Eddie Howe's Cherries who visit the Emirates Stadium today with Wilshere ineligible against his parent club.
But it is just as likely that Xhaka will find himself a mere spectator as Wenger looks for the right blend in midfield, with Francis Coquelin the only player who seems to be a near-permanent fixture in that position for the Gunners.
"He needs to adapt, then we need to find the balance," Wenger said when asked about Xhaka's lack of football. "We have the positional play, he plays in a deeper lying midfield position, he passes through the lines. He needs to adapt to the way we play and the tactical pace of the English game. I am confident he will do very well.
"If you look at Thierry Henry at the start when he came here, he was not playing. He did not play until November, he was as well 23-years-old. We are in November now." Xhaka has scored three goals so far this season, one each in the Premier League, EFL Cup and Champions League, but it is his disciplinary record which caught the eye when he moved to England.
He was sent off in Arsenal's narrow win over Swansea, taking his tally of red cards to eight in a two and a half year period. Wenger admits he is struggling but insists he cannot look only at the fee stumped up for Xhaka as a reason to pick him.
Asked if Xhaka was finding it difficult at resent, Wenger conceded: "Yes, but that is part of the job. People want you to buy players but when you buy them we only have 11 and not 22 and they feel sorry for the 11 who do not play but you want them to compete and convince you that they can get in the team and that becomes obvious they have to play.
While Xhaka is fit and ready if called upon today, Wenger is still without Cazorla as well as Hector Bellerin, Per Mertesacker, Danny Welbeck and Lucas Perez, although the latter could be fully recovered from an ankle injury in time to face Southampton in the EFL Cup on Wednesday night.
- Arsenal v Bournemouth, Sky Sports 1, 2.15
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