Arsene Wenger’s 22-year reign at Arsenal is over. Unai Emery's premiership is about to begin.
After years of gradual decline when the style of play altered from pace and power to small and technical, as well as the small case of tightened purse strings, the last two years have represented Wenger’s worst in his entire tenure.
In both seasons, the finished outside the top 4 for the first, and second, time under the Frenchman, while failing to produce the beautiful attractive football his sides had become revered for.
Wenger’s saving grace during the 14 years since he last won the Premier League title with the ‘Invincibles’ was the attractive football on show, the small budget comparative to big-spending rivals and, latterly, his FA Cup victories – three in four years!
How ironic then that two of his most expensive signings should trigger his ultimate downfall.
Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi both arrived in the summer of 2016 with big expectations – and even bigger price tags.
The duo cost the club £35 million each – from Borussia Monchengladbach and Valencia respectively – and currently stand as Arsenal’s fourth and fifth biggest signings.
Forming a major part of the spine, Xhaka and Mustafi were supposed to beef up the team’s long-term weakness. Instead, they made it worse.
Xhaka has been less Petit and more pitiful. Mustafi has been less step overs and more Stepanovs.
In that fateful summer, Arsenal fans watched on while one of the league’s players of the season N’Golo Kante went to tenth-placed Chelsea for a cheaper fee than Xhaka.
The former Leicester player propelled Chelsea to the league title and picked up the PFA Players' Player of the Year, the FWA Footballer of the Year, and the Premier League Player of the Season awards.
Xhaka and Mustafi meanwhile took Arsenal out of the Champions League for the first time in 19 years and then made them even worse again in their second season at the club.
The duo have been at fault for countless goals conceded this season – whether it was by directly giving the ball away to the opposition or by their poor defensive positioning and decision-making.
After two years, it’s still unclear what Xhaka brings to the team - he lacks pace and defensive understanding, he’s not a ball carrier, he’s not dominant in the air, Wenger himself admitted he isn’t a natural tackler, and he’s not an imaginative creative player.
The fact Xhaka played in every single league game for Arsenal this season highlights both how big a role he played in their dreadful season but also how bad the squad is that no-one could replace him when his performances didn’t warrant the bench let alone a starting berth.
Mustafi has shown signs of being a quality modern defender - he does have strength and pace, in particular games against Spurs at home and Chelsea, for example, he has been exemplary at keeping the strikers quiet. However too many times he switches off and gets the basics horribly wrong.
Arsenal’s sharp decline in league performances since the duo arrived are brutally exposed in the statistics:
The drop-off is significant both in the statistics and results, but also in the team’s performances.
Arsenal fans identified a stark decline in the quality and consistency of the team’s previously free-flowing football.
That stems from the fragility and lack of quality coming out from the back – for which the two main players responsible are none other than, yes, Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi.
If you don’t believe me, look at Manchester City’s transformation from last season to this when the team gained confidence from their key defensive players: the arrival of Ederson, the vast improvement of Otamendi, the brilliance of Fernandinho.
Mustafi and Xhaka have both produced the odd excellent game and had good moments in the red and white shirt. I’ll admit that.
But that’s not enough for a club the size of Arsenal and in a league which is ruthless and becoming ever more competitive at the top.
With new boss Unai Emery wanting to assert himself quickly and requiring additional funds to bring in new additions to the squad, the Spaniard should look no further than offloading these two expensive flops.
More importantly, it’s essential they are replaced by dominant, powerful figures who can provide the defensive backbone to allow Arsenal’s array of attacking talent to flourish.
Over to you now, Arsenal …