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Granit Xhaka: A perfect modern day regista

Sunday 31st December 2017

In England, every other fan either loves you or hates you with a passionate agenda. Every other manager including Wenger is well aware of this, and so should his midfield centre-piece Granit Xhaka. The Swiss international has made over 50 appearances for the Gunners since arriving at Emirates for a fee of around £35m in the summer of 2016. A move from Bundesliga to Premier League; in what should have been an understated promotion has become a scorching agenda of debate. The likes of Sead Kolasinac, Vincent Kompany Michael Ballack had never ignited such interest from the spectators. 

The truly significant fact about the 25-year old is that for what is fairly a low-key role, everything he does is either breathtaking or a fiasco. There’s no average performance in between. Everything is exaggerated because he drives to the limelight. Once lauded as a future Arsenal captain, he has unexpectedly become a scapegoat.

The Gunners, since Santi Cazorla became injured have lacked a dictating figure from the centre. Prior to that, it was Mikel Arteta who drew out Ramsey's greatest years. Xhaka is everything that Arsenal fans ought to acknowledge in a midfielder: a sharp sight for playing the ball into the box like Fabregas had, the capacity to play out wide like Emmanuel Petit, and the intrepid and courageous direction of Patrick Vieira.

After analyzing his first blustery season, some quarters of Arsenal fans were left unimpressed with the player.

However, does he deserve the negativity?. This is a result of a shambolic man-management from the Arsenal boss and he is the culprit for Xhaka’s stalled progression since his arrival in England. Maybe he should learn from that arrival of Jose Mourinho. He has been played in a position for which he is not suited - that of a defensive midfielder. His capability to slide into tackles, clearance and tackling intelligence and reading of the play is very weak when compared to other players. It is obvious that he needs a much more defensive-minded player alongside him to thrive. A three man-midfield would make more use of his skill set.

So why is Wenger unable to play him in his preferred position?

The answer is Mesut Ozil. The North London club loses its creativity when Ozil doesn’t play as a number 10. You can guess Arsenal's predicament with this. Last season, when the team moved back to five at back and started playing Aaron Ramsey as a box-to-box man and Xhaka as a deep playmaker together in a two-man midfield, Arsenal won seven out of their final eight league games.  His best performance in the Arsenal shirt came in a high profile encounter in the FA Cup final victory. He won every tackle in that match and effortlessly outplayed the dynamic duo of Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante.

Having a wand of a left foot, the regista is often a head-turner for a cloud of whys and wherefores. 

He’s a part joke; part midfielder; kind of stylish, but unquestionably backed with classic ingredients. A textbook example would be the Community Shield match at Wembley at the beginning of this season. In the early minutes of the second-half, Xhaka made a lurking clearance which led to Chelsea’s goal. Despite this, he managed to win the Man of the Match award with an astronomical performance- as sweet as any of Gerrard’s. He touched the ball 100 times- more than any player on the pitch, keeping a 90% pass success rate.

One match he plays well; in the other, he messes things up. He assisted two times to help Arsenal clinch three points at home against Leicester City and in the next game; he makes an error and handovers three points to Stoke City. That’s how much his performance varies as Wenger changes his tactics.

 “When you look at Wilshere and Xhaka, they are more technical than physical. That is the direction the manager wanted to take.” Patrick Vieira told Sky Sports.


His patrolling capability centrally coupled with limited speed and a whopping 5.7 through balls per 90 to supply the likes of Welbeck and Sanchez shows every trait of a mature superstar. Last season, Arsene Wenger eliminated all his love towards Mesut Ozil and shifted to a compact 3-4-3 formation as Arsenal were caught on the counter at the back when they played with a narrow 4-2-3-1. The 3-4-3 used by Wenger who changes his philosophy as often as Spurs manages to finish over him in the table is more defensive when compared to Chelsea’s 3-4-3 with Wenger being more conscious over his defensive outlets. This was built around the dynamic duo of Ramsey and Xhaka, just like the good old days at Monchengladbach with Dahoud for Xhaka. The formation changes to 3-1-6 with Xhaka staying deep and Ramsey pushing forward when Arsenal have the possession. The fulcrum of Arsenal’s midfield is built around the subtlety of Xhaka and the untiring energy of Welsh Aaron Ramsey, joining the front three when needed.

Since that horrendous night in Paris in 2006, in every transfer window, Wenger has tried to bring a bunch of players who can pass the ball so elegantly that the English football has never seen. It finally seems like he has brought one who keeps far more possession than your average defensive midfielder.

All of Granit Xhaka's three Premier League goals have come from outside the box. Find someone who loves you like Granit Xhaka loves trying his luck from 30 yards.

With Mesut Ozil ready to leave Emirates sooner or later for free after heavily linked with Manchester United, a solution already awaits the French manager. What Arsenal needs is a holding defensive midfielder to play alongside Ramsey/Wilshere and for Xhaka, a pivotal role await the Swiss international. 

Harsh Vardhan

A pilot in the making residing in India, Harsh is also an ardent follower of European football and his heart resides in Manchester, particularly the blues. He has deep passion for writing, with special admiration for combined-elevens, while also contributing to the sports column of a local daily.

Total articles: 67

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