With Thomas Partey expected to miss the remainder of the season through injury, Granit Xhaka’s importance to the Arsenal midfield can not be understated in their quest to win the top-four battle and seal a long-awaited return to the Champions League.
Partey last featured for the Gunners at the beginning of the month as his first appearance since leading Ghana to the World Cup ended prematurely as he was withdrawn in the second half against Crystal Palace with a thigh injury. And despite there being the hope of him returning before the season concludes, Mikel Arteta has hinted that will not be the case.
The news that we got after having another assessment is not great,” the Arsenal manager said in his pre-match press conference for the Southampton clash. “It’s not looking very positive for his availability this season, but we’ll have to wait and see. He’s trying to get back as quick as possible but at the moment we are not very optimistic about it.”
Assuming Partey doesn’t kick another ball for Arsenal this season, Arteta is going to have to find a solution to ensure his side doesn’t continue to miss the absence of the Ghana international. Against Brighton and Hove Albion last weekend, the Spaniard’s plan backfired as going with Xhaka at left-back meant the Gunners were light in the middle of the park.
As a result, it was no surprise that the Switzerland international was restored to his new advanced midfield role against Southampton and despite the disappointing final scoreline, he did a good job covering for Nuno Tavares at left-back and produced some decent progressive passing.
Given Tottenham Hotspur were beaten 1-0 at home to Brighton in Saturday’s early game, Arsenal’s failure to take advantage wasn’t too damaging with regards to the top-four race and they can move level on points with their north London rivals with victory over Chelsea on Wednesday night.
And Xhaka has handed Arteta a major team selection boost in that, barring an injury, he will be available for the short trip to Stamford Bridge as well as the huge game against Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium three days later after avoiding a scenario that would have seen him miss the latter.
As Premier League rules state: ‘Players who accumulate 10 yellow cards in Premier League matches up to and including their team’s 32nd fixture will serve a two-match suspension in the competition’.
Prior to the Crystal Palace game after the March international break, Xhaka had accumulated six bookings which meant he was walking the disciplinary tightrope ahead of the visit of Man United next weekend. This was because, at the time, Arsenal had only played 28 fixtures due to clashes with Chelsea and Tottenham being rearranged.
Whilst he was booked at Selhurst Park, Xhaka avoided having his name taken in subsequent games against Brighton and Southampton which were the Gunners’ 30th and 31st Premier League fixtures of the season respectively and that means the midfielder doesn’t have to hold back against Chelsea as another yellow card won’t rule him out of the clash with the Red Devils as Wednesday marks Arsenal’s 32nd Premier League fixture and the cut-off point.
Although, the midfielder is not completely free of any suspension fears as he will receive an additional two-match suspension if he is sent off for a third time this season, whilst Gabriel Magalhaes and Gabriel Martinelli will receive an additional one match to their punishment if sent off for a second time.