Arsenal have been closely linked with a move for Borussia Monchengladbach captain Granit Xhaka, with reports suggesting that the club has sent scouts to monitor the Swiss on numerous occasions this season.
Ever coy, Arsene Wenger would not be drawn on his interest in the 23-year-old midfielder directly but, perhaps tellingly, did not outright deny it either – suggesting a kernel of truth at the heart of the reports.
He said: “At the moment we are starting to analyse players and get little lists of names, but I don’t think it’s the time for us to come out with names.”
When pressed, Wenger chose to avoid answering the question – much as a head of state avoids tax – rather than flatly deny he had taken an interest in the player.
With Mathieu Flamini, Tomas Rosicky, and Mikael Arteta all set to leave the club in the summer – and a few other players likely to be deemed surplus to requirements – it is reasonable to suggest that there will be space in the squad for another midfielder.
The price tag that is being touted – some £35million – is unlikely, particularly given that Arsene seldom parts with that much cash unless it is a player of supreme calibre, but that is not to say a deal could not be thrashed out.
What of the player?
The 23-year-old Swiss has recorded 201 senior appearances in his career, with 12 goals. He also has 39 international caps to his name, and six goals to boot.
He started out with Basel in the Swiss league, establishing himself in the first team from 2010-2012, before making the move to the Bundesliga and Borussia Monchengladbach, for a reported fee of £6million.
In his time at Basel, he won two league titles and a Swiss cup.
Since arriving in Germany, Xhaka has not only established himself, but has even won the captain’s armband – worthy of note for a man of his age. His side is enjoying a strong season and could be looking at a return to Champions League competition again in 2016/17.
By all accounts, the 23-year-old is a holding midfielder, playing an anchor role in collecting the ball from defence and moving the play forward. He also serves as a lynch pin for the attack when switching the play across the pitch.
Comparisons have been made with Jack Wilshere but there is little similarity for me. Jack, by his nature, prefers to get forward and work off of a striker. Xhaka, it would seem, prefers to sit deeper and keep the play moving, as Arteta, or a Pirlo in his later years, has done.
The relative paucity of goals and assists to Xhaka’s name would add weight to that comparison.
A theme that does emerge consistently throughout his career, however, is a tendency towards hotheadedness. He is still relatively young but, in this season alone, he has notched up five yellow cards and three reds. He managed 12 yellows and two reds last season and 10 yellows and a red card in the season before that.
There is certainly nothing wrong with aggression – as long as it is controlled. A fine line is trodden between aggression and petulance and it would appear the Swiss can stray on the wrong side of that.
We have seen on a couple of occasions this season alone how a red card can completely change the complexion of a match. Think Chelsea – which went against us – and Leicester – which ran for us.
Xhaka’s contract is believed to run until 2019, having been extended in January last year.
What does the player say?
In interview, the 23-year-old left footer moved to cool speculation, insisting that his representatives had not yet been contacted by Arsenal.
But, in the past, he has spoken of his love of the English game and the difficulty he would have of turning down a move to the Premier League.
See some of the midfielder’s highlights of the season so far here
And a bit more of what he can do here
How does he match up?