The debate whether Granit Xhaka was a big miss for Arsenal against Brighton has continued to be discussed between supporters online in the wake of the 0-0 draw.
However, the fact of the matter is that the Swiss midfielder will be out until at least the end of the year. Therefore, Arsenal needs to identify the weaknesses in the replacement, Sambi Lokonga, in order to find solutions to the deficiencies lost by Xhaka’s absence.
Lokonga was brought in to provide depth to an Arsenal midfield that has faced a number of injury issues. The loss of Thomas Partey for much of last season was hugely detrimental to the club’s ability to combat and win the midfield battles.
The Belgian looks to be a strong cover option for Partey, possessing many similar traits including high mobility, right-footed, good dribbling and defensive strength. He does not however share the same role as Xhaka.
The deep-lying playmaker offers Arsenal consistent and accurate passing especially into the final third on the left flank.
Against Tottenham, Mikel Arteta finally found a team that balanced the attacks and made the side more unpredictable.
As shown in the below graphic, Arsenal had 6 attacks on the left, 7 on the right and 5 through the middle. Having Xhaka and Partey meant ball progression was very similar to the wide areas and the inverted nature of the wide players had great synergy with their colleagues on each flank.
However, compare the frequency and quality of attacks against Brighton and there is a clear difference. Seven attacks from the right compared to four on the left.
Furthermore, the attacks from the right had an associated xG of 0.29. Still low, however, both centrally and on the left Arsenal’s attacks had a combined xG lower than 0.01 according to Wyscout.
When comparing the forward passing patterns of both Xhaka and Lokonga it becomes clear why Arsenal lacked more threat down the left against Brighton.
The shaded area shows the number of passes each player made into and in the opposition half down the left flank. Whilst Xhaka made eight, Lokonga made just five and only three were into the final third.
This isn’t to overly criticise Lokonga. It isn’t at all surprising that the naturally right-footed player didn’t manage as many passes into this area as the left-footed Xhaka. Possession stats aren’t considered as against both Tottenham and Brighton they were 43.5%.
To solve this issue Mikel Arteta has two clear options. The first is to keep faith in Lokonga and work on the training ground to increase his frequency of passes to the left either through work with his weaker foot or using his right foot in the same area.
Secondly is to switch to the 4-3-3 used against Burnley, swapping Lokonga for an additional forward player either Nicolas Pepe or Gabriel Martinelli.
Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith-Rowe would play as partnering number 8s in front of Partey. The Norwegian would offer a strong left-footed option in the midfield, with the aim of improving service to the left-back and left-winger.
The match against Crystal Palace after the international break will surely provide the answer.
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Source by Football London