We’ve hit the mid-season mark under the new Unai Emery regime. Here at the Arsenal Vision Podcast, we will be looking to rate the Arsenal players based on their performances so far.
In this piece, we’ll be looking into the midfield to assess who’s played well and who could look to improve as the season progresses.
Lucas Torreira – 8/10
The defensive midfielder that fans have been crying out for since Gilberto’s departure. Torreira’s drive, aggression and pace belied his small stature as he regularly shielded the defence with his combative tackling
Some have compared him to Flamini in his prime but Torreira is nowhere near as reckless and is a much more accomplished technician of the ball. He’s comfortable on the ball, passes quickly and is capable of delivering a pass through the lines – something that he honed as an attacking midfielder earlier in his career.
Torreira’s form dipped a little from playing so many minutes through a heavy festive period but you can expect him to bounce back sooner rather than later. One of the bright spots in a mixed first half of the season.
Granit Xhaka – 7/10
Finally, fans are starting to appreciate the qualities that Xhaka’s the Arsenal midfield. Xhaka has been able to play his natural game by dictating the tempo from deep. Gone are the days that he would have had to shield the defence alone with midfield partner Torreira picking up the defensive slack in the centre of the park.
His absence was keenly felt when he was moved to the centre and left side of defence due to an injury crisis at the back. Arsenal struggled to progress the ball up the field and could not find a rhythm in those games.
With Emery marginalizing Ozil and Ramsey, Xhaka’s excellent range of passing and set piece expertise looks even more crucial to making the team tick. He looks more and more like a leader on the pitch and could well be the successor to the armband when Koscielny ends his Arsenal stint.
Matteo Guendouzi – 6.5/10
Guendouzi’s name was on everyone’s lips after a productive pre-season in Singapore. Guendouzi plays with courage and confidence that is rarely found in someone so young. He’s eager to receive the ball in tight spaces and is always committed to play out under pressure. You can see why he’s a favourite of the manager.
However, he is still a teenager learning his trade and his rawness is apparent when he switches off defensively and makes silly tackles in dangerous areas. Sometimes, that courage on the ball also means that he holds on to the ball for a bit longer than he should and ends up losing it in midfield.
Guendouzi is a player with great potential and Emery needs to ensure his minutes in the league are managed accordingly to aid in his growth as a player.
Mohamed Elneny – 5/10
The ultimate “safe” player. Possessing a good engine and an ability to make safe, albeit conservative, passes of the ball, I always felt that Elneny looked a good option to bring off the bench to protect a lead.
However, Emery doesn’t seem to rate him and he’s been relegated to starting in the cups. Elneny has only one league game to his name – the 3-1 win over Burnley on 22 December which saw him substituted on 59 minutes.
The Egyptian international hasn’t been bad, though he hasn’t been spectacular neither, and would look to be a handy squad player for the cup games where you can be guaranteed of a steady 6/10 performance from him.
Aaron Ramsey – 6.5/10
1 goal and 6 assists in 9 Premier League appearances is stuff many midfielders can only dream of. Despite the good record on paper, Aaron Ramsey hasn’t always looked comfortable in the number 10 role – a position he’s played for most of the season.
Arsenal’s announcement regarding the non-renewal of Ramsey’s contract has also thrown a spanner into the works as his appearances have been marginalized since.
There are rumours of a January departure to PSG or Juventus. A move for him might be a blessing in disguise as managers past and present have struggled to find Ramsey a role to best express his talents.
If he stays, I would love to see him on the right side of midfield in a “Ljungberg” role where he can tuck in and protect the midfield and make late diagonal runs into the box to add a goal threat in attack.
Mesut Ozil – 4/10
There is no one in the team right now who can divide opinion like Mesut Ozil. The biggest star in the team has struggled to play within Emery’s setup. He’s been peripheral in the earlier games having started on the right side of midfield and hasn’t been on board with the high pressing tactics. Blockbuster performances such as the one against Leicester have been far and few in between.
For someone of his ability, I believe he should be performing better in the games he starts in though at times, he has unfairly been the lightning rod for wider issues in the team. But as the biggest star and the highest earner in the club, the spotlight is inevitable.
Constant rumours of a backroom rift with the manager has also dogged Ozil – missing games due to a series of “back spasms” and “tactical reasons”. Whether you see him as victim or villain, it is imperative that Arsenal find a way to get Ozil performing in 2019 to lead the team back into a Champions League spot.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan – 5/10
Much was demanded from Mkhitaryan at the start of this season. He’s an experienced attacker who can play in wide and central areas, has a telepathic relationship with Aubameyang (judging from their Dortmund days) and is one of the highest earners at the club. The Armenian playmaker has not delivered and his performances have so far been mediocre.
For a player of his talents, he hasn’t shown enough consistency for Arsenal with only 4 goals and 3 assists in the league and Europa League to show for. Very often he struggles to get the basics right with his link up play and finishing but is equally capable of a brilliant moment of skill (see goal against Chelsea).
His form did seem to be on a slightly upward curve towards the end of December before suffering a metatarsal injury that would see him return in February 2019.
Alex Iwobi – 6/10
Iwobi started the season on fire. Like Bellerin, the ex-Arsenal academy player found a new lease of life under the new coaching team. Opponents were struggling to cope with his dribbles, powerful runs and his nutmegs.
However, December saw the team’s spiralling form affect Iwobi’s performances. A greater responsibility to be the team’s playmaker due to Mkhitaryan’s inconsistencies and the absence of Ozil has seen Iwobi revert to the ponderous play that plagued him game last season.
He could do with a bit of a rest but with scant options within the team for a wide player, Emery may be forced to play Iwobi into the ground. If there was a consolation to the Liverpool game, Iwobi looked like the one guy who could have created something for the team but more reinforcements are required to shoulder the responsibility in attack.
Hatta is a Singapore-based Gooner, a purveyor of the latest football boots and kits and founder of BOOTHYPE.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.