How Arsenal could line up after Granit Xhaka injury blow... Albert Sambi Lokonga to shine?

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·3-min read
How Arsenal could line up after Granit Xhaka injury blow... Albert Sambi Lokonga to shine?
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After discovering that Granit Xhaka will be out for three months, Arsenal find themselves in uncharted territory.

Until now, the midfielder has had a near-perfect injury record since moving to Emirates Stadium in the summer of 2016.

Xhaka has always managed to play at least 40 games per season, but now Arsenal are in the new situation of facing an extended period of time without the Switzerland captain.

It creates a selection headache for manager Mikel Arteta, who must now devise a system without one of his trusted lieutenants.

Xhaka has had his critics over the years, but Arteta has backed him repeatedly and he views the 29-year-old as a leader on and off the pitch.

Here, Standard Sport takes a look at some of the options available to the Spaniard with Xhaka sidelined...

Odegaard, Partey and Smith Rowe trio

This currently looks like the most likely option. Arteta used such a system earlier this season when Arsenal were chasing a goal against Norwich. The Spaniard then started with it against Burnley the following week.

Both those games took place during Xhaka’s three-match suspension and suggest this is Arteta’s preferred system when he cannot play the Swiss.

It is quite an attacking lineup, with Thomas Partey sitting at the base of a midfield three and being trusted with a fair amount of defensive work. He has the ability to do it, but no one else in the squad could.

 (Action Images via Reuters)
(Action Images via Reuters)

Having Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard ahead of Partey - playing as two No8s - gives Arsenal an abundance of creativity in attack. The pair are also very good at pressing off the ball, which makes the system function.

We are yet to see the set-up against a ‘bigger side’ and that’ll be the true litmus test of its feasibility. It has worked against Norwich and Burnley, but it could work against the likes of Chelsea or Liverpool?

Give Lokonga the chance to shine

This feels like an attractive option and one Arteta may turn to. Albert Sambi Lokonga has only been at Arsenal a few months but he has made a strong start.

When he joined from Anderlecht in the summer, those in Belgium stressed how the 21-year-old was still a work in progress and not the finished article.

That may well be the case, but Lokonga has shown enough flashes of brilliance to suggest he deserves a run in the team. He is dynamic, on and off the ball, but crucially he seems to have the composure to play in central midfield in the Premier League. He has never hid or shied away from taking the ball off the defence and starting attacks.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Xhaka is a player who never hides either and Lokonga feels ready to step into his role, even if it is only for the next three months. Playing alongside an experienced figure like Partey would surely help him too.

Turn to Elneny or Maitland-Niles

There was lots of talk about Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Mohamed Elneny leaving Arsenal this summer, but given Xhaka’s injury it is perhaps just as well they stayed.

Arsenal need the bodies in midfield right now and this run up until January could be good for the club and players.

It is possible both Elneny and Maitland-Niles may have eyes on moving when the transfer window opens, and this spell could be the chance for them to fight for their futures or secure a move away.

 (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
(Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Starting them in Xhaka’s absence feels like the least exciting option, but it could given Arteta a steady pair of hands in midfield.

Both offer solidity and defensive nous, which may come in handy for big games away from home.

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