Throughout the entire summer, the expectation was that Granit Xhaka would leave Arsenal for Roma. After five years, it was time for the Swiss midfielder and Arsenal to try something new. The key part, though, is that Arsenal wanted to get a decent for Xhaka, with the context that Xhaka has two years left on his contract, turns 29 in September, and this is the second summer of a pandemic era transfer market, affecting clubs’ finances, especially clubs, like those in Europe, that don’t have the lucrative broadcasting deals that the Premier League has.
The fee, then, was always going to be the issue in completing Xhaka’s transfer, and yet there was still the expectation that it would happen, with Arsenal lining up Ruben Neves as a replacement. Roma, though, never met Arsenal’s valuation, thought to be about £20m, and thus, Xhaka is back, in training.
In a sense, that’s fine. While it is easy to say that Arsenal have never finished in the top 4 with Xhaka at the club, that places far too much importance on the influence of one particular player. And while Xhaka does have his flaws, he also has strengths, which Arteta has done an effective job at maximizing, and the partnership between Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka did look to be building in the second half of Arsenal’s season. If the pieces around Xhaka are improved—perhaps with, for example, Ben White, a defender who prefers to close space down further up the pitch—Xhaka can continue to do the things he’s good at.
There are advantages to keeping Xhaka: If Arsenal could be bringing in a number of new players between now and the end of the window, and keeping a player who starts weekly means there’s one less thing to do before the end of August, and it allows you to bed in, for example, Albert Sambi Lokongo, without perhaps needing to start him in two weeks because you’ve sold Xhaka and haven’t bought a replacement.
What is odd, though, is the report that Arsenal are offering Xhaka a new contract. Xhaka’s current deal has two years to run. If he signs an extension, he will be no more valuable next summer than he was this summer. At this point, having played five seasons at Arsenal, and entering into a sixth, there is no need to protect his value, and extending his contract could mean it’ll be that much harder to move on from Xhaka, be it in a years’ time, or two years’ time.
It makes sense to extend the contracts of young British players to protect their value. If Eddie Nketiah had five years’ left on his contract, Arsenal would be in a much stronger selling position. But it doesn’t make sense to do it with a soon to be 29-year old, who you were happy to sell, but fine keeping.