In Depth

What is the problem with Arsenal enforcer Granit Xhaka?

Fans worry for £30m enforcer after Arsene Wenger leaves him on the bench against Manchester United

Arsene Wenger's long wait for a competitive win against his old foe Jose Mourinho goes on after Arsenal only managed to salvage a draw against Manchester United on Saturday.

Indeed, the Gunners were fortunate to take home a point after an anaemic performance that raised plenty of questions over the manager's selection policy. 

Juan Mata put United in front in the second half and it took a towering header from substitute Olivier Giroud to bring Arsenal level in the 89th minute. 

His goal was set up by another sub, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but it was the third of the replacements, Granit Xhaka, who had most observers scratching their heads.

The Swiss midfielder was touted as the enforcer to add steel and vision to the Gunners' spine when he arrived at the Emirates in a £30m deal from Borussia Monchengladbach in the summer. 

However, he was left out of the starting line-up at Old Trafford, with Wenger opting to use Mohamed Elneny and Francis Coquelin to anchor the midfield.                

"To select one workaday, lateral, do-a-job central midfielder seems sensible enough. To pick two looks like self‑defeating caution," says Barney Ronay of The Guardian, adding that watching the pair of them try to launch Arsenal forward was like "watching a particularly stodgy rugby line trying to lumber forwards".

But, he continues, it is clear Wenger does "not entirely trust Xhaka...  who is on the face of it a superior all-round player, able to pass and run and shoot as well as tackle and cover, not to mention a more imposing athlete with a greater reach and mobility".

The manager's explanation for Xhaka's omission "wasn't very satisfying", says Neal Thurman of Yahoo. "He said that he knew the match would be physical and wanted to put out a side that would be up for the fight.  Are we saying that Xhaka isn't physical or combative enough for the big stage?"

Certainly Arsenal bloggers are concerned. Andrew Dowdeswell of Fansided says the decision was "especially worrying" as there are only two explanations: either Wenger is "tactically inept" or Xhaka is not up to the job.

Travis King of The Short Fuse writes: "We live in a world where Xhaka and his skillset gets benched in the biggest matches of the season in favor of a guy whom the rest of the team bypasses when in possession."

But if Arsenal fans are fretting about their supposed midfield general, United supporters could be forgiven for questioning the continued absence of £26.3m signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who was once again left out of the matchday squad.

It meant that two of the biggest signings of the close season, with a combined worth in excess of £56m, did not start the game.

According to the Daily Telegraph, United manager Mourinho felt the game was "too pressurised" for Mkhitaryan, who was hauled off at half time during the Manchester derby and has only made one substitute appearance since. 

But the player may reappear for the Europa League game against Feyenoord this week, as that game should "prove less of a pressure cooker environment for the fragile Armenia captain", continues the paper.

It adds: "Mourinho conceded that Mkhitaryan is frustrated and unhappy at still being frozen out but was working hard to adjust to the demands of English football and representing a club of United's stature by keeping his own counsel and buckling down."

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