In an unsurprising turn of events, Unai Emery announced today that Arsenal’s beleaguered captain Granit Xhaka has been dropped from the roster ahead of Saturday’s clash against Wolverhampton.
BREAKING: Unai Emery has left Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka out of the squad to face Wolves on Saturday pic.twitter.com/XiXOh47yWY— B/R Football (@brfootball) November 1, 2019
Just a day after releasing a statement on his display during Arsenal’s draw against Crystal Palace, Emery announced the decision during a press conference, emphasizing that Xhaka might not be mentally ready to feature after he reportedly had difficulty coping with the fan backlash from Sunday.
It is not in my mind that he is going play tomorrow. I am thinking tomorrow he is not going to play because I think now we need also to be focused only 100 per cent on the match.
While the news was unsurprising and largely anticipated, there are ample questions remaining. First and foremost is: who fills in as captain? After an impressive 65 minute cameo in the Carabao Cup, Mesut Ozil could be an option, but that assumes that Emery has decided to temporarily remove Ozil from exile and play him in the league. The more obvious choices include Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Alexandre Lacazette, but with how much scrutiny Xhaka faced as captain, you wouldn’t blame them for being reluctant to wear the armband.
This all also leads to the second question: how do Arsenal line up in the midfield? Xhaka has been a stalwart in Emery’s sides, much to the chagrin of Arsenal fans. With news of him being dropped, that opens up the door for either Lucas Torreira or Ozil to get a rare Premier League start in his stead. Assuming Matteo Guendouzi starts, the other two spots are fair game. Joe Willock played the entire match on Thursday, which most likely rules him out. But since both Ozil and Torreira were eventually subbed off for Guendouzi and Dani Ceballos, any of those four could reasonably feature.
The final question, and most difficult to answer, is when will Xhaka return to the pitch for the Gunners? There are certainly many fans who would prefer he never suit up for Arsenal again, but the reality is that he is still a member of the club for the foreseeable future. The Swiss international has been a consistent presence on the pitch since signing for the Gunners in the summer of 2016, and many have been screaming for that to change. Emery has spoken favorably of Xhaka many times in the past, but the wound is still fresh with fans and it stands to reason that he would not so readily be welcomed back. Too soon, and fans will feel slighted. Too long, and then Arsenal run the risk on having two veteran mids taking up both the bench and salary space and running the rest of their midfield rotation into the ground.
While fans may not be open to the idea of Xhaka returning anytime soon, it ultimately falls on Xhaka and Emery to make that decision. When that will be remains to be seen.