Since Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger announced last week that he would be calling time on his 22 year reign as Gunners boss, the great and good of the game have been quite rightly queuing up to pay tribute to the impact the Frenchman has made on the Premier League since his arrival in 1996.
Sunday was the 68-year-old’s last trip to Old Trafford the home of Man United, who have undoubtedly been Wenger’s greatest rivals during his two decade stay in the English top flight.
However, there was a clear indication on the pitch that showed that the Gunners boss has made the correct decision to leave the club he loves and that in all honesty that probably should have happened a few years ago.
Granit Xhaka, who is the only player to have started every Premier League fixture for Arsenal this season was named captain, which is an indicator that Wenger has completely lost touch with the reality of what is needed for a team to succeed at the top level of English football.
So mediocre is the Switzerland international at the elite level that the realization that the 25-year-old is in the top five most expensive Premier League central midfielders of all time is enough to send any knowledgeable football fan into a existential crisis.
It’s now almost two full seasons since Xhaka moved from Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladnach to the Emirates for £35 million, with the expectation that he would be the man to finally bring an end to the Gunners long standing issues in the centre of the park.
However, after almost two full seasons in London, it’s hard to see what he actually brings to a team except for the ability to pass the ball sideways and occasionally fire in a decent long range effort.
For a defensive midfielder keeping things simple in possession is not a serious negative, quite often the best defensive midfielders in the business play safe passes.
The likes of Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic use a combination of atheletic ability and tactical understanding to break up play and then lay the ball off to their more creatively minded team-mates. In fact, it’s hards to find any really successful team without a player of this ilk in their starting XI.
Sadly for Xhaka he does not possess the athleticism or tactical nous required to ever be classed as a top drawer defensive midfielder.
His feeble sliding attempt at stopping Paul Pogba during his sides 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford on Sunday and then his subsequent failure to continue tracking the France internationals run into the box was pathetic, and it was by no means the first time he has been so woefully inept at performing the job he is in the team to do.
Quite often Xhaka’s poor disciplinary record is used as yet another stick to further admonish him, although he quite often falls foul of referees because he has to try and perform last ditch tackles due to his lack of physical prowess and tactical indiscipline leaving him totally exposed or in a positional no mans land.
Quite simply Arsenal’s first choice central midfielder does not have legs or brain to be part of a team with aspirations to be challenging at the top of the Premier League.
It is of course not his fault that he is playing for a club and a manager for whom repeatedly making the same mistakes goes unpunished and failure seems to have become accepted. Nor it is Xhaka’s fault that he just isn’t Patrick Vieira, the type of physical midfield presence and leader every man and and his dog know the Gunners have been missing since the Frenchman’s departure in 2005.
For Xhaka and many other Arsenal players things are about to change drastically this summer when a new coach arrives at the Emirates for the first time in any of their Gunners careers.
The harsh reality is that there will be very few elite level coaches that will want Xhaka in their squad let alone as an ever present.
In fact, if Wenger’s successor wants to put his stamp on his new club and send out a clear message that players with blatant inadequacies in their game will no longer be tolerated then showing Xhaka the Emirates exit door should be his first move.