Granit Xhaka: A Profile
Granit Xhaka. The former captain was debatably the most prominent scapegoat for the fans at Arsenal during the Unai Emery era. Error-prone, poor discipline and the chain of incidents leading up to his loss of the captaincy, it looked like Xhaka would be taking the next available flight out of London, with Hertha Berlin heavily linked.
However since Mikel Arteta became the head coach at Arsenal, Xhaka has been a mainstay in the Arsenal midfield. He’s played more minutes than any other Arsenal midfielder during that time and the head coach has stated that he sees Xhaka as a part of Arsenal’s long-term future.
“I think he is going to stay. He was very good [against United], and I really like him. With the way we want to play, if we get him on board I think he can be a tremendous player for the football club.”Arteta – Jan 1. 2020
It is easy to point the finger at Xhaka and say he isn’t good enough for the Arsenal team. He had made a number of mistakes in crucial moments, so why does Arteta see him as a part of the Arsenal future?
He doesn’t fit the mould of a typical playmaker – he’s only managed to get 3 Premier League assists since Arsene Wenger left the club in 2018, and averages approximately 1 key pass per game. He isn’t a goalscoring midfielder – despite his powerful left foot. His highest number of goals in any Premier League season is 4.
He also isn’t a ball-winning midfielder, averaging just under 2 tackles per game and under 1 interception per game. To put that into context, when Arsenal recalled Francis Coquelin back from Charlton in 2014 he averaged 3.2 tackles per game and 3.7 interceptions for the rest of that season.
Considering all this, what does Xhaka bring to the Arsenal team that our other midfielders don’t?
Firstly, he’s very versatile. Xhaka has played as a midfielder, centre-back and left-back during his time at Arsenal. Arteta has used him mostly as a left-sided deep midfielder but with Bukayo Saka filling in as a left back, Xhaka has provided excellent cover whenever Saka pushes forward to act as an auxiliary winger. Once Kieran Tierney returns, it will be interesting to see how he and Xhaka work together on that side of the pitch.
Also, despite his lack of assists, Xhaka’s passing range is exceptional. He averages over 5 long passes per game, and these passes are usually effective switches of play rather than aimless long balls. He’s also good at playing the line-breaking passes that often start the attacking moves.
There is also an argument that could be made that he is still Arsenal’s best midfielder. Lucas Torreira has shown glimpses of quality and grit but he hasn’t yet shown the tenacity that he had during his time at Sampdoria, Dani Ceballos looks set to return to Spain, and despite Mesut Özil’s resurgence in the side his contract runs out in 2021 and looks past his best.
What do you think about Xhaka’s future? Should he be part of Arteta’s long-term plans?
Xhaka: Stay or Go?
Header Photo: cfcunofficial (2018)