Arsenal

Mikel Arteta knows the perfect plan to replace Granit Xhaka at Arsenal – but there’s a problem

Granit Xhaka will almost certainly miss Arsenal’s Premier League encounter with Brighton and Hove Albion this weekend.

And reports coming out of Switzerland suggest he is facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines after sustaining a knee injury during the Gunners’ 3-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.

The worst-case scenario is that Xhaka will be unavailable for the next two months, which means in addition to missing Saturday’s game against Brighton, he will also sit out fixtures against Liverpool and Manchester United in November.

So who will Mikel Arteta turn to in Xhaka absence?

Well, the Spaniard does have several central midfielders at his disposal to make a like-for-like change as Albert Sambi Lokonga, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Mohamed Elneny will all be vying to partner Thomas Partey.

As Xhaka was influential in two of three goals against Tottenham with his passing between the lines or just excellent reading of the game, it’s hardly the ideal scenario for Arteta as for the first time this season he was able to name his first-choice XI.

But given how Arsenal fared in Xhaka’s absence – albeit against weaker opposition in Norwich City, Burnley and AFC Wimbledon – it gives Arteta the chance to immediately revert back to his dream 4-3-3 formation.

Which could be great news for Nicolas Pepe.

After turning to the 4-3-3 system in the second half against the Canaries after the international break, the Spaniard stuck with it at Turf Moor as well as the Carabao Cup third-round tie and it yielded five goals and three clean sheets.

In handing Xhaka a recall against Spurs, it meant Arsenal lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with the Swiss midfielder and Partey in the double pivot in front of the back four.

It also meant Pepe was the odd man out with Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka preferred on the flanks – a decision that was justified as the pair each weighed in with a goal and assist.