With Xhaka and Partey leaving, who’ll lead the Arsenal?


Xhaka’s out the door. Partey isn’t too far behind him, what with Juventus and AC Milan interested, plus interest from Saudi sides Al-Ahli, Al-Khaleej and Al-Nassr. While Xhaka’s transfer to Bayer Leverkusen is all but done, Partey’s process is still unfolding. If it’s true that both of the beating hearts of our midfield are to depart this summer, we’ll have to think long and hard about what that means and how to deal with those ramifications.

Xhaka’s off to Bayer Leverkusen. He’s been a divisive figure on the pitch, to say the least, but he’s been a cohesive one within the squad. He might not rank among the best of our DMs of the last decade, but he’d surely outrank the likes of Coquelin, Elneny, Flamini, Guendouzi, and Torreira, maybe even ahead of Song. He was slow, one-footed, and rash, but he was also instrumental to knitting together squads that all too often felt like oil and water. His redemption arc is well-documented, and he’s earned a proper send-off and a chance at playing at a somewhat lower level (no disrespect to Leverkusen or the Bundesliga).

As for Partey, I have to admit that his legacy is a bit…ambivalent. Signed on a £45m fee back in 2020, we should have all expected him to set the Prem on fire. Here was a battle-tested veteran who had helped Athletico Madrid win La Liga and the Europa League title. At Arsenal, he has been very, very good…but I’d hesitate to say that he’s been the world-beating heir to Vieira we might have hoped for. Again, he’s been very good. Worth the fee? Yes. Worth the hype? Uh…I’ll have to get back to you on that.

Whichever way you slice it, selling both Xhaka and Partey represents more than a symbolic break with the past. It symbolizes more than a re-vamp of the midfield. At a risk of going out on a limb, it feels like we’re, well, going out on a limb. Shorn of their aggregate experience, the next most-senior member of the squad is Cedric. After him, it’s Jorginho; then, Elneny. I hope you see where I’m going with this. We’re short on players forged in the cauldron of a Champions League campaign. Yes, Jesus and Zinchenko have braved that cauldron, but they were buttressed by a squad deep enough to rest key players. We don’t have that luxury.

To be fair, Zinchenko has shown strong signs of being a leader, and he’s been through that Champions League cauldron, albeit as a rotational player for a heavyweight side. That’s a bit different from being a key player for an underdog side (we’ll be lucky to get past the knockout stage). Then, there’s Ødegaard, club-captain. He seems to lead more by example than by personality. Does he have what it takes to stand up against the captains of Barcelona, Bayern, or PSG when the chips are down? Can he convince a referee to give us the benefit of the doubt? These are open questions.

Last but not least, there’s Declan Rice. He’s been a captain and a talisman for West Ham. He’s led them to European glory, even if it was the decidedly third-tier Europa Conference League title. Assuming we do in fact complete his transfer, it’s hard to believe that he’s had the leadership experience to help us navigate the ferocity of a title-tilt in the Prem or the Champions League, never mind both at the same time.

Long story short, selling Xhaka and Partey in the same window might make financial sense. They’re both ageing out, after all, and we have a rare chance at selling older players at respectable fees. What we have to consider is the leadership vacuum such departures create, and who will step into that void.

We’re being asked to trust the process, but it feels like the players are being asked to do the same while being deprived of the leaders who would navigate that process.

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4 thoughts on “With Xhaka and Partey leaving, who’ll lead the Arsenal?

  1. A Simple Truth

    your Xhaka take is so outrageous and rife with recency bias that if I were to offer up my true feelings on the matter it just might irreparably damage our “budding” relationship…as such, I will simply say this, he’s one of the most overhyped, overplayed and disappointing players to ever don the kit, considering what he’s displayed on an international level…so much so that I would gladly trade 6 months of Kante, at his best, for all 7 years of his underwhelming tenure

    as for Partey, he was misused for most of his time here due to our sideways passing, wide-side dependent tactics…we’ve had no real presence in more central positions, minus when Laca or Jesus came deep, so his ability to provide some much-needed directness in our attack was never really allowed to flourish…of course his propensity to get injured certianly didn’t endear him to some within the fanbase, but on his best days he was by far and away the best option we’ve had in deeper-lying positions since Santi was deployed as a “pivot”

    1. Jon Shay Post author

      Oh, come on now. I may have asked for some handbrake when talking to others, but you can give it to me with both barrels. I’m wearing big-boy pants, they have real pockets and everything. You’re right that recency bias has clouded my vision to some degree. For example, it’s perhaps Xhaka that so many people were predicting he’d get sent off against Wolves only for him to bag a brace…and fluff a chance at a hat-trick. At any rate, he’s gone, and I think we could all agree that calling his time here even a mixed-bag is probably too generous by half. I won’t go into that tiresome “Vieira’s heir” question, but we have lacked some presence in the centre of the pitch.

      I had hoped that Partey would offer something like that, even if he was given a role that was limited by our tactics (and other players in the squad – cough, cough Xhaka). Having only seen him a few times such as against in the Europa League, I had led myself to expect a much-more imposing player who’d dominate matches (not unlike a certain Frenchman I only moments ago refused to discuss). If his time here is indeed at its end, I’ll regret that tactics and injuries inhibited his ability to live up to my own imaginings.

      1. A Simple Truth

        Jon-just for clarification purposes, my comments were more tongue-in-cheek than you perceived them to be…I was kind of playing off the notion of you wanting me to take it down a notch, yet somehow my attempt led you to believe that I was doing the exact opposite…I hold no ill-will towards those who fell head-first into the Xhaka empathy trap, as I understand how that might have transpired…that said, it’s clear to me that the deal struck between MA and Xhaka was both problematic and hypocritical, especially considering how differently Arteta behaved towards others when they acted in a similar fashion as our former wantaway captain…sometimes those managerial/player dynamics make sense, but not when the juice is nowhere near worth the squeeze…Cheers

  2. A Simple Truth

    personally I hope that we retain Partey and ship Jorginho, as the former is a better fit behind Rice…not to mention, some load management would likely do him wonders, so maybe we could get his best version whenever called upon…should he move on, hopefully another deep-lying midfielder will be incoming, as Jorginho has neither the pace nor the physique that position requires…that said, I will give him credit for the on-field leadership qualities he displayed last season, as there was times when it appeared as if he had been wearing the armband for years…now I’m still not exactly certain how we will lineup this season, base formation-wise, but regardless of the particulars having some depth in that specific position couldn’t hurt in light of our less than stellar history when it comes to injuries


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