Every summer Arsenal fans beg and plead for a “big-money” signing, insisting that’s all they need to bridge the gap between themselves and that elusive Premier League title which they have been chasing for nearly 13 years(!).
Certainly a few times in the last five years the club have actually matched that ambition, with Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez both relative coups considering the lack of success Arsene Wenger‘s men have achieved in the last decade-and-a-bit.
But their latest big-money deal represents something of an error. At least it does at the moment.
Granit Xhaka arrived this past summer with a big reputation after four years in Germany with Borussia Mönchengladbach. Arsenal made the £34m plunge prior to his displays at Euro 2016, which highlighted his strengths as a distributor, but also his weakness; rashness and recklessness.
Arsenal have definitely seen more of the latter traits since his move, with a red card against Swansea City in September showing alarming carelessness and his penalty concession in the 3-3 draw with Bournemouth on Tuesday was borne out of utter stupidity.
The Switzerland international also has generally struggled to impose himself on matches away from home. That’s not great for a player who was supposedly brought in to stamp his authority (perhaps literally in some cases) on matches.
But, do you know which Arsenal midfielder has thrived this season? The one they let leave on loan; Jack Wilshere.
At his best, Wilshere possesses everything Xhaka does and more, with the talented midfielder more astute on the ball, similarly strong in the tackle and more creative.
Wilshere was, of course, sent on loan to Bournemouth for the year as Arsenal looked to determine whether he could put his injury troubles behind him and get somewhere close to his best. Now, Wenger sympathisers may well insist that Wilshere wouldn’t have reached his current level without going to the South Coast – and they’d probably be correct.
But here we are, in early January; Arsenal’s title ‘challenge’ continues to falter with Xhaka and Francis Coquelin at the base of the midfield. Perhaps the former’s struggles come partly down to partnering flagrant mediocrity, but either way the Gunners would be better off with Wilshere.
Xhaka is clumsy, slow and a passenger in all our games. We have one in Ramsey yet we spent £30 million on him and loan Wilshere out #Arsenal
— Amber Teo (@amberteo) December 18, 2016
And that begs the question: why didn’t Arsenal at least hope for a Wilshere renaissance and include a recall option in his loan deal?
Perhaps Wilshere making 13 Premier League starts doesn’t necessarily cement the thought that he is past his injury problems, but it is certainly an indicator that something has changed. He didn’t make that many top-flight starts in the last two seasons combined after all.
The lack of foresight shown by Arsenal in such a scenario is rather surprising considering they know how effective Wilshere can be. But their misjudgment is Bournemouth’s gain, and Wenger must continue to persist with the midfield pairing of Xhaka and Coquelin.