ARSENAL are going to miss Granit Xhaka A LOT if Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Brighton is anything to go by.
Thomas Partey and Albert Sambi Lokonga were poor at the base of the Gunners’ midfield and will need to do much more in the next few months while the Swiss is out injured.
Xhaka is the source of much frustration for many Gooners and has had a rollercoaster ride of things in North London.
But his form has improved this season and he was phenomenal as Arsenal thrashed bitter rivals 3-1 at Tottenham last week.
He was relentlessly tenacious and the unsung hero until he suffered cruciate ligament damage in the last ten minutes and now faces three months on the sidelines.
Lokonga was his direct replacement at the Amex – the only change Arteta made to his winning team.
This is the man Arsenal fans said was better than Paul Pogba in August. But he was well off the pace from minute one and there were zero similarities between the two midfielders.
Lokonga was chasing blue and white striped shadows for most of the game as the Seagulls’ midfield runners created chances to make things happen time and time again.
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Partey also looked worse off having had his midfield partner swapped.
With Xhaka missing and Lokonga virtually absent, the Ghanaian struggled with the additional defensive burden.
Xhaka’s presence allows him to play with more attacking freedom and link the play from defence to attack – although Xhaka’s quick passes did set up two of Arsenal’s three first-half goals vs Spurs, showing he can do both jobs.
But for Partey, it was not the case alongside Lokonga and he ended up spreading himself too thin trying to do everything and ended up doing nothing well.
He did just about enough to put Lewis Dunk off as he headed into the side netting in the closing stages of the first-half.
But belting a 35-yard free-kick into row Z on 35 minutes about summed up his first-half showing.
He then curled a shot wide with five to go in the first-half – which he should have got on target – in one of his half-baked attempts at an attack.
And he blazed another effort from distance over to jeers from the crowd 10 minutes after the break.
Lokonga was no better but to be fair to the Belgian, his job was made slightly harder by Kieran Tierney’s repeated attempts at an overlap – leaving the 21-year-old to cover.
But that is no excuse as he looked lightweight and off the pace when defending and ponderous when trying to move the ball out from the back.
Arsenal looked a different team to the one that was so emphatic against their bitter rivals last week.
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And love him or hate him – as many fans do – there is no denying Xhaka’s absence in centre-midfield saw the whole tempo of the team change in attack and defence.
Over to you Albert. You’ve got three months to prove yourself.
And Thomas, buck your act up quick or you’ll be slung out the Partey. The pressure’s on.
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