Arsenal played Granit Xhaka at left-back against Sporting Lisbon on Thursday. The Swiss international filled in briefly in that position against Leicester on Monday, and Unai Emery himself said that he is an “option” while they battle with injuries.
Glenn Hoddle has taken it about 427 steps further. He believes that Xhaka “might actually end up as Arsenal’s left-back” on a more permanent basis.
“It’s a lot simpler for him,” the pundit told BT Sport. “When he’s got the ball, everything’s inside him. Unless he’s got a flying winger that he’s got to get tight on early, it’s a lot simpler, everything’s inside.
“In midfield, the centre of midfield, you’ve got 360 degrees, everything’s going on around you. You’ve got to have eyes in the back of your head and he hasn’t got that I’m afraid.”
To be fair, Glenn, no-one does. It’s harsh to pull Xhaka up on the fact that he does not suffer from a medical abnormality.
“Playing left-back you can see everything, defensively and he’ll get time on the ball. Your left and right-back nowadays push on and he will enjoy playing that.
“Whether long-term he can be the answer for that, he’s got a lovely frame on the back post, as a centre-back you’d love him on the back post clearing headers away.”
It should be noted that Hoddle was speaking before Arsenal played Sporting, and Xhaka understandably looked fairly shaky throughout. So Hoddle was basing this on literally just 30 minutes when he had little defending to do against Leicester.
“So he might actually end up as Arsenal’s left-back.”
Or, alternatively, he might play there when the four players ahead of him in the pecking order (Nacho Monreal, Sead Kolasinac, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Stephan Lichtsteiner) are all unavailable. And if Arsenal don’t sign some sort of back-up in January.
Xhaka has played at left-back for around 120 minutes this season. He has played in central midfield for the other 715 minutes. Somehow, Mediawatch still sees the latter being his favoured long-term position.
Paul Merson fears for Liverpool against Cardiff on Saturday. He offers his thoughts to Sky Sports:
“These are the games where Liverpool can slip up, which is why Manchester City will win the league easily – they ease past these teams. Sometimes these games are a grind for Liverpool.”
Liverpool have won all six of their games against teams outside of 2017/18’s top six this season, conceding once.
Manchester City have won six and drawn one of their games against teams outside of 2017/18’s top six this season, conceding three times.
Manchester City might well win the league, and whether they do so ‘easily’ is subjective. But if ‘these games are a grind for Liverpool’, they are doing well at hiding it: they have not conceded a goal at home in the league since February.
Earn your Spurs
According to John Cross, ‘the cracks have already begun to appear’ at Tottenham and ‘they are threatening to undermine’ their season. Which is funny, because we assumed the cracks first started to appear when they lost three consecutive games in September, not when they won four in a row in the Premier League. The Champions League draw with PSV was poor, but worse still was that defeat away at Inter Milan.
But anyway, Cross lays it on thick in his article for the Daily Mirror, adding that Tottenham are ‘facing the humiliation’ of playing Europa League football in their new stadium when it finally opens.
Both Cross’ beloved Arsenal and Chelsea seem to be coping with the ‘humiliation’ of Europa League football rather well. How ‘humiliating’ it would be if Tottenham dropped down into that competition and did equally well.
‘And even the fans are voting with their feet,’ Cross adds, ‘as, incredibly, tickets are still available in most sections of Wembley for what was supposed to be one of the biggest games of the season against Manchester City next Monday.’
It’s almost as if the game was originally scheduled for a Saturday lunchtime kick-off, before being moved to the rather more awkward Monday evening slot, leaving supporters with precious little time to rearrange their own plans and travel.
But hey, ‘to stand still in the Premier League is to go backwards’. Just forget that this is literally the most points Tottenham have ever had after nine games of a Premier League season.
Arsenal’s new left-back, Liverpool’s obvious struggles and Tottenham’s backwards season all pale in comparison to Friday’s biggest story in football, mind. Let the Mail Online inform us all.
‘Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard head out for lunch – and inseparable Manchester United pals even parked their £60,000 Range Rover and £185,000 Bentley next to each other!’
What?! Surely not?! Two close friends went for lunch together?! And they even parked next to each other?! We won’t believe it until we see it!
Thankfully, the Mail have pictures. Because of course they bloody do. And the caption to one of them says that their cars ‘were sat next to each other’. Which is not what cars do.
Our favourite part of such stories is how the outlet reporting it always has to dress it up as football news. It often leads to some painfully terrible segues, but Matt Storey – clearly the result of a Football365 experiment gone wrong – has given up by this stage.
‘The duo looked relaxed as they strolled through Hale wearing matching caps, designed by Dsquared2, and parked their cars alongside each other too.
‘They will both know that United’s form needs to improve quickly and that begins with a home game against Everton at the weekend.’
Nothing about United’s season STALLING? Or the pair of them trying to DRIVE the club forward? Maybe they are GEARED up for Sunday’s game?
We have been dragged down to their level.
Incey wincey insider
In the zany words of Mike Walters, who opens his Daily Mirror piece by saying Manchester United’s form is ‘patchier than a dalmatian’s spots’, Paul Ince ‘warns’ and ‘blasts’ Jose Mourinho multiple times on Friday.
‘Mirror Sport revealed last week that current United players are angry at the stream of criticism from the club’s old boys, notably the class of ’92 including Paul Scholes and Gary Neville,’ Walters writes.
‘But Ince will not be gagged, and gave Mourinho both barrels for becoming the biggest-spending manager in United’s history – but failing dismally to fir the jigsaw pieces together coherently.’
That’s right: Ince ‘will not be gagged’. Because United’s players a) haven’t actually forcibly silenced Scholes or Giggs either, and b) probably don’t care all that much about the musings of a man who last played for the club in 1995.
Next week: William Prunier WILL NOT BE SILENCED as he questions Eric Bailly.
Luk who’s talking
Thank the lord that Ince was not ‘gagged’, for the football world should not be robbed of such insight. Romelu Lukaku is in the Guvnor’s sights:
“When you are at United, you must perform at seven or eight out of 10 every week. I’m not sure he has the ability to do that.
“He should be the focal point of the team. He’s 25 years old now, he’s not going to change. The Lukaku you have now is the one you’re always going to have, that’s what you’ve got to work with.
“He constantly loses the ball throughout every game. But as an ex-player, if my control and retention of the ball wasn’t great, I’d be out there every afternoon, getting it right. It makes you wonder what he’s working on in training because we’ve never seen an improvement.
“You can’t always blame the manager – sometimes you need to take responsibility for your own performances.”
That all sounds a little different to what Ince was saying last November.
“When Romelu Lukaku came to Manchester United, and he was bagging goals for fun, no one was saying a thing. Not one United fan was moaning.
“Now, he hasn’t scored in a few games and suddenly loads of fans are on his back. They need to get real.
“If you’re a proper fan, you can’t just support someone only when they’re playing well. The proper Man United fans will be backing Lukaku whether he’s doing well or whether he’s having a rough patch.”
From telling fans to “get real”, and saying “you can’t just support someone only when they’re playing well”, to literally questioning what he’s doing in training and claiming we “have never seen an improvement”. It has been quite the journey.
Writes John Cross in the Daily Mirror.
‘United would want a transfer fee, despite Sanchez being a financial disaster after arriving last January in a swap deal that took Henrikh Mkhitaryan to the Gunners.’
They’d want a transfer fee? For a player who hasn’t been that good but has four years remaining on his contract? Cheeky f***ers.
Headline of the day
‘Ballon d’Or winners for next 10 years ‘revealed’ by Football Manager 2019′ – Mirror Online.
Inverted commas aren’t just used for when you know something is a load of ‘bollocks’, guys.
Recommended reading of the day
Nick Miller on the real Ronaldo’s greatest goal.
Luke Brown on Arsenal.
Gabriele Marcotti on El Clasico.