How Arsenal solve a problem like Granit Xhaka: Play to his strengths or bench him?
When Granit Xhaka was handed a contract extension by Arsenal back in June, new head coach Unai Emery said he was "delighted" about the prospect of working with the Switzerland international.
Two games into the season, though, Xhaka can be added to the growing list of issues that Emery has to sort out. The midfielder's performances against Manchester City and Chelsea didn't show any sign at all of development, and Emery decided to take him off at half-time at Stamford Bridge in favour of newcomer Lucas Torreira.
With Torreira ready for his first start and fellow new signing Matteo Guendouzi impressing so far, Xhaka's place in the team is under serious threat. After starting 52 of Arsenal's last 53 Premier League games -- the most of any player during that stretch -- he no longer has a clear role in the side.
Xhaka is not a natural defensive midfielder -- that's why Torreira was brought in -- while both Guendouzi and Aaron Ramsey offer more pace and versatility as deeper-lying playmakers. But after the club gave him that contract extension (and spent £35 million on him two years ago), Emery can hardly give up on the player either.
So how to make best use of him? Here's a look at the alternatives.
Play him next to Torreira as a deep-lying playmaker
Emery seems intent on using different formations this season depending on the opposition, which means several players -- including Xhaka -- could find themselves moving in and out of the starting lineup.
When Emery deploys Arsenal's traditional 4-2-3-1 system, Xhaka could still form an effective partnership with Torreira as part of a central midfield duo. Under Arsene Wenger, Xhaka was tasked with being the more defence-minded of the two midfielders, usually next to the more free-roaming Ramsey. But with Torreira taking up that role, Xhaka could find more room to use his skills as playmaker as his long balls over the top was often a dangerous weapon for the Gunners last season.
The problem is that Ramsey and Guendouzi both have their eyes on that role as well, and either are probably a better fit for Emery's pressing style. However, since Torreira has only seen limited action so far, it's impossible to say which player he would form the best partnership with.
Play him as a holding midfielder
For some reason, Emery has been reluctant to start Torreira so far, and Xhaka may get to keep his spot as the holding midfielder until the Uruguayan gets up to speed.
Torreira and Xhaka both reported back from World Cup duty at the same time so should have similar fitness levels, but Torreira could still need more time to get used to his surroundings and Emery's tactics.
He was given a talking to by assistant coach Juan Carlos Carcedo after the Chelsea game, presumably for his role in the build-up to the hosts' late winner, and is still adjusting to the pace of the Premier League. There's no doubt that Torreira was brought in to be a starter, but Emery may view Xhaka as the safer option for a few more weeks.
However, the Switzerland international's lack of pace and poor defensive awareness proved costly on numerous occasions last season, and he has never looked like a natural ball-winner since arriving at the Emirates.
Play him in a three-man midfield
Xhaka's salvation could come in the form of Emery's habit of using a three-man midfield when the situation demands it.
Assuming that Torreira will form the base of that trio, it leaves two spots for Xhaka, Guendouzi and Ramsey to fight over. Most fans would probably make Xhaka the odd man out there, but he does provide a more physical presence than the others -- which could be more important given Torreira's diminutive stature.
For all his limitations, Xhaka is undoubtedly a great passer of the ball who can have a big influence on the game going forward -- especially given his shooting ability from long distance.
Guendouzi may be an exciting talent but is still only 19 and can be muscled off the ball a lot easier than Xhaka. Meanwhile, Ramsey's performances haven't been great so far under Emery either and the uncertainty surrounding his new contract could make him an easier player to drop.
Put him on the bench
Let's face it: This could be the most likely (and, some would say, best) scenario going forward.
As soon as Torreira is ready to start, Xhaka may have to get used to being a substitute. If Guendouzi continues to develop quickly, he seems like a better option as a deep-lying passer, while Ramsey offers more of a scoring threat as a box-to-box player.
There should still be plenty of opportunities for Xhaka to get on the pitch, but he may have to settle for regular action in the Europa League and domestic cups.