Wenger turns to Xhaka and Coquelin pairing in Arsenal middle to strike right balance in absence of Cazorla

Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger has always strived for balance during his long spell as manager of Arsenal. Forget having a nice weight to your attack, if you have a floundering midfield, for instance. And if you have an unbalanced rearguard but a stable keeper, you may struggle. Harmony is, and always has been, vital.

And so the old spectre of balance raised its head again for the Frenchman when the club’s hierarchy announced that Santi Cazorla would face at least three months out injured following an operation on a dodgy ankle.

The Spanish playmaker had been making Arsenal tick as the campaign unfolded and, crucially, the balance according to Matchbook bookmaker review looked right.

Then Cazorla got a knock against Ludogorets in the Champions League and, just like that, he was removed from the picture. Worryingly, for Wenger and Gunners fans, Cazorla is 32 in one week and let’s remember he missed a large portion of last season sidelined with ankle problems.

So, Wenger has once more had to look for that balance without the “glue” provided by Cazorla’s ability as his team go forward. Now, it can be argued, he may well have found it. At West Ham on Saturday, the Frenchman paired Granit Xhaka alongside Francis Coquelin. The duo worked well together, giving the Gunners a defensive screen and at the same time injecting energy, passing and guile into the marauding attacks which led to a convincing 5-1 Premier League victory.

The importance of the duo’s display wasn’t lost on Wenger, who observed:

“We found the flow again. Losing Santi not only puts pressure on some players, but you have to find a new balance again.”

“And every week I try to a little bit here, a little bit there, to find it back. Overall, he was our deep playmaker, a guy who all our defenders think ‘where is Santi?’ After that, you need to find new ways to build the game up.”

Wenger will, no doubt mix things up again tonight in terms of team selection when Arsenal are at Basel in the last game of the Champions League Group A fixtures; Xhaka and Coquelin may or not feature together because of tinkering.

But this correspondent bets a pound to a penny they team up once more when the Gunners host Stoke City in the Premier League at the Emirates this coming Saturday — because Wenger has found the all-important balance he likes.