5 Things Granit Xhaka Brings to Arsenal
Thus far, Arsenal have only made one major summer signing: Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka. Understandably, there is a lot of anticipation for seeing him take to the field in his new colours.
Right now, Xhaka is recuperating from his efforts at Euro 2016, when he played a crucial role in taking Switzerland through to the knockout stages. However, it will not be too long before he joins up with training at London Colney and begins to make his presence felt with his new club.
Read on as we take a look at the qualities that convinced Arsene Wenger to open his chequebook to sign the midfielder. What attributes will he bring to the Arsenal midfield?
Go to the next slide to begin the analysis of Wenger’s new acquisition.
Range of Passing
Perhaps the most striking thing about Granit Xhaka is his extraordinary range of passing. From his deep-lying midfield position, Xhaka loves to spray the ball around the field.
A gifted ball-player is not exactly a new thing at Arsenal. However, rarely has Arsene Wenger been able to call upon someone with such variety to their distribution.
When you look at the shape of Arsenal’s side, the likelihood is that Xhaka will effectively replace Francis Coquelin at the base of the midfield. Coquelin, for all his qualities, cannot hold a candle to Xhaka’s playmaking abilities.
Per Mertesacker has observed Xhaka’s development in the Bundesliga, and he seems impressed by his ability to dictate play. The German told Arsenal Player (h/t Sky Sports' Allan Valente):
He's a leader and that is really important, especially in midfield. He has got a very good attitude, is very composed on the ball and contributes a lot.
He is a good passer as well, so he will set the tempo. I am looking forward to how he does it, how composed he will be in training and in the games. He will be the perfect signing for us.
The most intriguing aspect of Xhaka’s passing game is his willingness to play longer balls when necessary. He frequently looks to release players early, lofting passes in behind the full-backs from well within his own half.
Arsenal have players with real pace, such as Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott, who are ideal to race on to Xhaka’s more direct passes.
Over the last few years, Arsenal have frequently been guilty of looking like a side with a soft underbelly.
Xhaka is anything but soft. Although he is extremely technically gifted, he balances his guile with real grit. A Premier League midfield is a battlefield, and Xhaka seems well-suited to that kind of intense, competitive atmosphere.
Those who’ve watched him in the Bundesliga will know he’s not averse to a tackle. In fact, he may have to curb his aggressive instincts somewhat—last season saw him pick up three red cards in the course of the campaign.
That won’t particularly worry Arsenal fans who long for their team to show a bit more bite.
A Foil for Aaron Ramsey
In Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal have one of the brightest midfield talents in Europe. That was confirmed this summer, when his outstanding performances on French soil helped propel Wales to an unlikely semi-final in Euro 2016.
Ramsey ended the competition by being named in UEFA’s official Team of the Tournament. He must now surely be classed among the very best in his position.
The trouble is that Arsenal have not found it particularly easy to accommodate him. He’s spent much of the last two seasons playing from the right-hand side, as Arsene Wenger sought fruitlessly for a player to complement the gifted Welshman.
His best form in an Arsenal shirt arguably came in 2013/14, when he was paired with Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard retired this summer to take up a coaching position with Manchester City, but Granit Xhaka could be seen as a like-for-like replacement.
Like Arteta, he’s happy to drop deep, picking the ball up from the back four and instigating moves from his own half. He’s positionally disciplined and not prone to irresponsible runs forward.
That could make him an ideal foil for Ramsey, who is at his best when given license to wander. Wenger will surely use the preseason to see if he can combine Ramsey and Xhaka in an effective partnership.
This summer, Arsenal lost a trio of experienced midfielders in Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini. Although Granit Xhaka does not have as many years under his belt as those three players, it’s never prevented him from bossing those around him—Xhaka is a born leader.
I'm an aggressive player and also a leader. I'm only 23 but I captained a good team in Germany.
When I was younger, even though I had a big brother, my parents would give me the house key every day. It's in my head that I am a leader and captaining Monchengladbach was very good for me.
It’s an assessment backed up by journalist Sven Goldmann of Der Tagesspiegel. Speaking to James Benge of the Evening Standard, Goldmann confirmed:
Absolutely, he’s a born leader. He’s very young but he’s played with the Swiss team at the World Cup and has plenty of experience.
He’s taken on a lot of pressure, in public he always talks to the press and if you ask him a question he’ll give you a proper answer.
Xhaka’s a leader on the pitch and a leader off the pitch.
Who knows? If Xhaka settles at Arsenal, he looks as if he could be captain material one day.
Granit Xhaka has one quality that separates him from many of Arsenal’s midfield options: he’s left-footed.
Arsene Wenger loves to field a team with a healthy balance of right and left-footers. It’s one of the reasons he spent so long persisting with a dysfunctional defensive partnership of Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen.
Fielding Xhaka alongside any right-footed player in Arsenal’s midfield should bring more variety to the Gunners’ game.
Of course, the other left-footed player in Arsenal’s midfield contingent is Jack Wilshere, but his fitness record has been so patchy in recent seasons that it’s all but impossible to rely on him. The arrival of Xhaka means Wilshere’s absence shouldn’t be felt quite so keenly.