Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has big shoes to fill after Granit Xhaka suffered a devastating injury blow this week.
The 29-year-old midfielder was ruled out for the next three months after he sustained knee ligament damage during last weekend’s north London derby win over Spurs.
Xhaka was withdrawn eight minutes from time following an accidental collision with Lucas Moura and the Gunners have since announced that it was a “significant injury.”
The Switzerland international may regularly divide opinion at the Emirates Stadium but it’s clear that Arteta still trusts him and his talents, having been thrown straight back into the starting XI following a three-game ban.
He and Thomas Partey ran the show against their arch-rivals, so the gutting blow has certainly come at the worst time for the Spanish head coach.
It now leaves him with a conundrum on who is fit to replace that presence in the engine room.
Will he call upon the experience of Mohamed Elneny? He has only just returned from injury himself, whilst there is also summer signing Albert Sambi Lokonga and Hale End product Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who is desperate for chances in midfield.
Both have their positives and drawbacks, so it’s a tough call to make.
It could be a golden opportunity to see what the latter has got ahead of the winter window.
The versatile 24-year-old vented his frustrations at not being allowed to leave Arsenal on social media this summer amid interest from Everton, but it seems as if the relationship between player and manager has been repaired.
Arteta must now give Maitland-Niles a fair run in the side and it’ll only benefit everyone concerned. If he plays well, he an become a solid option for the Gunners for the foreseeable future – or he could add several more millions to his price tag before January swings around.
Similarly, if he fails to grasp the chance with both hands, then it’ll make the decision to offload him all that easier.
“You rarely get a player with his pace in that role. I would have loved that as a player. He’s a Rolls-Royce of a player at times,” he claimed.
Maitland-Niles is definitely on Arteta’s radar too, as he revealed to reporters this week.
“Ainsley is certainly one of the options. We have used him quite a lot since the start of the season and he’s doing really well and I’m pleased with what I’ve seen from him.”
During a loan stint at West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League last season, the Englishman displayed some key defensive attributes and attacking attributes that would suggest he can be a suitable replacement for Xhaka in the coming months.
As per WhoScored, he averaged 1.5 tackles, 1.1 interceptions and 1.1 dribbles per game, so he could definitely fill that box-to-box void in the heart of the pitch.
Forget Lokonga. It’s time to see what Maitland-Niles can truly do. He could be the man to fill Xhaka’s huge void.