Granit Xhaka arrived with much fanfare and a hefty price tag in the summer of 2016. The Borussia Monchengladbach captain and Swiss international was supposed to be the final piece in the jigsaw over Arsenal’s midfield. He offered a combination of strength, brawn, technical ability and vision – a beefed up version of the departed Mikel Arteta. While the midfielder, of Albanian descent, shone here and there, he certainly has yet to live up to his billing.
Issues with discipline and focus have tarnished his performances, while his lack of mobility and tendency to dwell on the ball can be infuriating. There is no doubt that there is a top class player somewhere in Xhaka, but whether this player can turn up for Arsenal remains doubtful. Many Gooners this season have finally thrown in the towel with Arsenal’s number 29 and would welcome a replacement.
Five Tough-Tackling Defensive Midfielders Who Could Replace Granit Xhaka
The lynchpin of Monaco’s title-winning midfield, the twenty-four-year-old Brazilian Fabinho would bring a calmness that the Xhaka sorely lacks. Having begun his career as a right-back, Monaco boss Leonardo Jardim moved him to the middle of the park and he hasn’t looked back since. Standing over 6 feet tall, Fabinho offers a combination of physicality and grace that makes him a natural fit for the Premier League. Having started his career as a wide defender, it comes as no surprise that Fabinho is blessed with both pace and dribbling ability.
Compared to Xhaka, his disciplinary record is outstanding; in fact, Fabinho has never been sent off in his professional career. His calmness is exemplified through his role as Monaco’s penalty taker. He is never flustered and rarely misses. This focus and composure are traits which Arsenal could desperately do with in the defensive midfield role. Reports suggest Fabinho is leaving Monaco this summer, and Arsenal should waste no time in testing their resolve.
Another midfielder born in Brazil, Napoli’s Jorginho Frello is now a naturalized Italian. He is also one of the driving forces behind the Neapolitan’s push to the top of the Serie A table. More of a passer than a destroyer, it could be argued there is no one better in Europe at keeping things ticking in the middle of the park. Jorginho has averaged an astounding pass completion rate of almost 90% in the league this season. He has also chipped in with two goals and three assists.
With that being said, Jorginho does not mind putting his foot in when necessary. Winning 30% more tackles than Xhaka in league play this season while conceding almost 50% less fouls, Jorginho would slot perfectly into Arsenal’s possession-based system. Maurizio Sarri’s emphasis on getting the ball forward as quickly as possible while eliminating extra touches will have instilled in Jorginho the skills he needs to be a successful Xhaka replacement.
Jean Michael Seri
Another potential Ligue 1 import comes in the form of OCG Nice’s Jean Michael Seri. The Ivorian international was heavily linked with Arsenal this past summer until Barcelona swooped in. The Catalans pulled out of the deal at the last hour, choosing Paulinho instead, and leaving Seri heartbroken. Last season was the best of his career, as he made contributions at both ends of the pitch. Seri scored seven goals and provided nine assists for Nice, and only missed four games. This season, he has not quite matched these heights, but he still remains a player of immense quality. The great Xavi sang his praises in the summer and claimed to see something of himself in the little Ivorian.
While not the classic defensive midfielder, Seri would bring bags of energy and dynamism to the table that Xhaka cannot match. Arsène Wenger has had success in the past transforming more forward-thinking players into holding midfielders (see Mikel Arteta and Francis Coquelin) and could do the same with Seri. The Nice man has similar passing statistics to Jorginho and would be available for a much more reasonable price. Nice languish in seventh place and Seri might be keen to move his career forward to the next stage. At twenty-six, Arsenal would be the perfect next step for him.
This pint-sized Uruguayan has been one of the breakout stars of Serie A this season. The youngest player on this list at just twenty-one years of age, Torreira has been tearing it up for sixth-placed Sampdoria. With his best years still well ahead, he could be Arsenal’s midfield lynchpin for the next 10 years. He has made 87 interceptions and 72 tackles so far this season and has also found ways to contribute offensively. Torreira scored a crucial goal and completed 87% of his passes in Sampdoria’s 3-2 victory over Juventus, proving he is a man for the big occasion.
Like Xhaka, he enjoys testing opposition goalkeepers from range, but tackles opposition players at nearly double the rate of the Swiss international. His lack of experience is somewhat of a concern, but Arsène Wenger has never shied away from giving young players a chance to shine. The Frenchman just may be tempted to try his luck to sign one of Europe’s top young talents once again.
This inclusion may come as somewhat of a shock. Arsenal are hardly known for pinching players from their Premier League rivals (Mkhitaryan aside). Why would Liverpool let an experienced German international and vital midfielder leave? The truth is Emre Can’s contract with the Reds is close to expiring. This summer, the former Bayern Munich and Leverkusen man will be a free agent. At this point, an extension looks unlikely and Can appears set to depart Anfield. Although Juventus are very keen, the pull of London could give the German pause. He would represent an incredible bargain for Arsenal: a proven Premier League player with the capability to score fantastic goals and make the opposition feel his presence in equal measure. What’s more, the feeling of stealing a rival’s star would be sweet for the Arsenal faithful.
Granit Xhaka has not done enough to guarantee himself a place in the Arsenal squad. Should Wenger be ready to spend this summer, defensive midfield is a position he will surely look to strengthen. Who do you think is the right player to replace Xhaka? Reply in the comments below!