After an excellent start to the season that has seen them top at the first international break, Arsenal face their trickiest test so far with the visit of Tottenham Hotspur to the Emirates this Saturday.
The Gunners have yet to beat a ‘big six’ side this season after losing a closely fought match to Manchester United earlier this month, and could silence plenty of the doubters with a victory over Antonio Conte’s men.
For such a test Mikel Arteta will want all his best players available to him, but it seems as though fates have conspired against him so far. Kieran Tierney should be fit after missing Scotland’s 0-0 draw with Ukraine but there is still some doubt over Oleksandr Zinchenko, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Martin Odegaard and Thomas Partey.
football.london understands that Arsenal will assess all four of them at London Colney in the coming days, and are hopeful of having them fit for Saturday’s crucial match. However, if Partey, in particular, is unavailable it raises a familiar question for the Gunners. In his absence, they struggled at the business end of last season, and despite extending Mohamed Elneny’s deal and viewing Albert Sambi Lokonga as someone who can play in the six position, there are still doubts over the club’s ability to find someone who can replicate what Partey does. Over the international break however, a solution may have emerged.
Granit Xhaka has starred for much of this season in a slightly more advanced left-eight role that has seen him create the joint most chances in the Premier League alongside Kevin De Bruyne. Amid this position change, the Swiss midfielder has seen a total transformation of his relationship with the Arsenal supporters who even went so far as to sing his name after the full-time whistle of the 3-0 win over Brentford before the international break. Speaking after that game Arteta expressed his delight for how things have turned around.
“I think he feels now that love and respect both ways,” the Spaniard said. “You see our supporters, the way they were singing to him as well, emotionally that makes him try to give even more. I’m really pleased for him because in my opinion he really deserves it.”
However, interestingly enough when away with Switzerland over the international break, Xhaka was asked to play a different role all together. The 30-year-old drew plenty of praise at the Euros last summer for his work in a box-to-box position, but during their most recent round of Nations League fixtures against Spain and the Czech Republic Xhaka played a far deeper role.
Against Spain in particular, the former Borussia Monchengladbach man was very impressive as Switzerland claimed a shock victory. The fear of playing him in a deeper role has been his ability to handle pressure with his back to play, but against Luis Enrique’s high-pressing side, Xhaka coped well.
The 30-year-old has previously stated that he prefers a more advanced role that gets the best out of his abilities in possession, but interestingly enough Arteta has admitted that he views him as an option in the six. “We have players like Sambi, we have players like Granit who can play there,” the Spaniard said when asked to assess his midfield options after the failed pursuit of Douglas Luiz.
Of course, having Partey back available for Saturday’s crucial match will be a priority for Arsenal as they seek to take revenge on their north London rivals after missing out on the Champions League players last season to them. However, should the Ghanaian be unavailable it’s interesting to note that Xhaka has shown he can excel in the deeper role if called upon.