Take a look at this tweet posted by our very own Gav showing the players available to face Middlesbrough last Sunday. Take a look at the ‘attacking midfielders’ and ‘wingers’ section. There’s not a lot to choose from. The squad is extremely weak; everybody knows that. So the question must be asked – why is one of our more talented players, and an influential figure in last season’s great escape, seemingly being overlooked?
Wahbi Khazri has played just 25 minutes this season. And those minutes came against Manchester City in our opening game. He wasn’t even summoned off the bench against Boro, with Moyes preferring 17-year-old Joel Asoro, who admittedly impressing during pre-season, to play on the wing instead.
As part of the KKK trio that arrived in January, Khazri was a hugely influential figure in our survival last season. While he may have been overshadowed by Jan Kirchhoff – whose £750K signing was one of the club’s shrewdest bargains – and Lamine Kone – who formed a formidable defensive partnership with Younes Kaboul – Khazri established himself as an important part of the squad.
After making an impressive cameo in debut against Manchester City, Khazri helped The Lads to a point against Liverpool – creating Jermain Defoe’s late equaliser – and was instrumental in the 2-1 win against Manchester United – first scoring with a free kick, before his corner was headed in by Kone. And we all remember his wonder strike in May’s dramatic comeback at home to Chelsea.
One of the Tunisian’s biggest attributes is his set-piece delivery. While not every delivery has been perfect – and who would expect them to be? – Khazri has shown that he possesses great ability from dead ball situations. You only have to look back at the Everton game, where he left Joel Robles bamboozled on a number of occasions, for evidence of that. Plus, there’s only so much of Adnan Januzaj hitting the first man that you can take.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that Khazri possesses the technical ability or craft of Mesut Ozil or Philippe Coutinho, because he doesn’t. But he is decent on the ball, and while he appears to lack the ability to decisively and consistently beat a full back, Khazri has clearly demonstrated that he can create chances and provide a link between attack and midfield.
In Monday’s press conference, it was reported by Simon O’Rourke that Khazri’s absence was due him to being one of the last players back from the summer break, and that he therefore needed to get up to speed. However, Khazri featured in all but one of our pre-season friendlies and was given a fair share of game time. John O’Shea, for example, featured just twice, although he did feature in this summer’s European Championship, and he has started both games.
There have also been suggestions by some fans that he is carrying extra weight – although he looks perfectly fine to me – which may explain needing to "get him up to speed." But surely giving him playing time, particularly as one of our better attacking players, would help him to do that? Fully fit or not, Khazri represents a better option in the ‘number 10’ role than Duncan Watmore, who, for all of his running and energy, lacks control and composure with the ball at his feet.
So, is he simply unfit, or is there more to it? Time will tell, no doubt.
One thing is for certain though. With The Lads travelling to Southampton on Saturday, we could really do with Khazri in the side, particularly for his tireless work-rate and willingness to defend for the team, if nothing else. With Cedric and Ryan Bertrand likely to attack the wings, it’s of vital importance that we provide support to the full backs, particularly with Fabio Borini’s availability in doubt.
Whatever the problem, let’s hope that we’ll see Khazri starting in the red and white as soon as possible.