Despite the lack of marquee signings, the failure of the current Arsenal squad to make an impact at the 2018 World Cup could pay dividends for the team in the domestic campaign ahead.
There are two obvious reasons for this:
1. Players returning from a both physically and mentally draining international tournament rarely hit the ground running the following season. They are normally too exhausted to play at their best and often succumb to injuries, caused by fatigue.
2. Those that disappointed in the tournament or didn’t go to the World Cup will want to prove they have what it takes. Obviously, one of the players feeling like that is Jack Wilshere, who has just signed for West Ham. In that particular case, the Hammers will get the benefit of Wilshere’s sense of injustice. However, Arsenal still have the under-performing Granit Xhaka, whose critics are out in force again.
On the subject of Xhaka, it is interesting that the new boss singled Xhaka out for praise. You have to wonder how many Arsenal games Unai Emery got to watch, as the Switzerland international invariably disappointed. That is not to say that Xhaka has no talent; he clearly has something about him that convinced the club to offer him a new contract. At this stage in his career, the only impressive aspect of his stay at Arsenal is that he has stayed injury-free, playing in every Premier League game last season.
The problem is Xhaka is a ‘Jack of all trades and master of none’. He is not exactly a pass-master, but he hit the odd good raking pass (albeit not an incisive one to open up a defence). Xhaka looks like he adds a physical presence to the midfield, although really he is just a specialist in giving away silly free kicks and picking up unnecessary cards. The Swiss does score spectacular goals on occasions, but these are few and far between. Xhaka even tracks back, to some extent.
This lack of tracking back brings me onto Mesut Ozil, who reminds me of Rosicky of old: except unlike ‘Little Mozart AKA The Great Pretender’, the Germany international does not fake his lack of defensive effort. Like Xhaka, Ozil’s World Cup was disappointing. However, on his day, Ozil is a match-winner. How many more Ozil days will Arsenal see, though? Now that Ozil has the coveted number 10 shirt, perhaps he can dig deep for the team in a way not seen before. The ability is there, without doubt, but it is up to Emery to get Ozil to apply himself. Although Ozil has signed a long-term deal, his commitment to the cause is questionable.
Interestingly, Emery did not mention Ozil when he first came to the club. Could this mean the German will be shipped out if he continues to fail to deliver? I would not be surprised.
Neither would I be surprised to see Aaron Ramsey leave for Manchester United this summer. The Welshman has not put pen to paper on a new deal, and after the debacle last season with Sanchez, Arsenal will not allow the same to happen with the midfield maestro.
At least, Arsenal are set to bolster their midfield with the arrival of a player who actually performed admirably at the World Cup: Lucas Torreira. He will be the odd man out at Arsenal in that respect, but it’s too soon to write off all the relative failures.
The new boss could be the one to get something out of Ozil and Xhaka. If Emery can do that, then Arsenal could challenge for a top-four spot again.