The Granit Xhaka Conundrum
Granit Xhaka is a question that nobody really knows the answer to. Everybody has their own opinion and if anyone is to disagree with them, they ‘don’t know football’. Why do some have such hatred for Xhaka, while others have come to love the Swiss international?
It’s certainly a toughie. In 2016, Arsenal pounced and purchased Granit Xhaka for around £30-35million. I had never seen him play before the Euro’s in 2016, but a number of keen-Bundesliga-watching-hipster friends of mine were quick to tell me how jealous or excited they were that Arsenal had signed the Borussia Mönchengladbach midfielder. So naturally, my excitement and expectations started to rise.
Having watched Xhaka for a couple of seasons and now knowing the player in much more detail, I believe he has unique qualities that not many players in the world currently possess. Unfortunately, a lot of these talents go under the radar because they aren’t always glamorous. He recycles the ball incredibly well, taking the ball back from a more attacking position and putting it into an area of the pitch that we can immediately apply another wave of pressure. His passing stats are always incredible in games, often making the most passes and having the highest pass accuracy percentage. The way he drags opposition players out of position to create space in the midfield is vital to our current style of attacking play, and he has the ability to then break lines with impressive and often decisive passes, taking advantage of the space he has created. He controls our game within a formation as a conductor and most viewers completely overlook it, you only have to see how poor we are positionally in attack when he doesn’t play. He can also hit a pretty sweet strike, which we have seen several times. All of this from a player who has one of the coolest names in football. Granit Xhaka. The man sounds like a Jason Statham character.
All that sounds pretty ideal… until you mention his faults. He is slow over the ground, can be slow on the ball, often gets caught being too relaxed in possession, he lacks defensive intelligence, jumps into a tackle, and unfortunately, has made multiple misplaced passes that have lead to us conceding sloppy goals. While his talents and skills are those of a behind-the-scenes conductor, his mistakes and inabilities are spotlighted for all to see. While I like what Xhaka does for the team, he has cost us in multiple games. Other Arsenal fans might also make a point of the fact that since Xhaka came into our team, we’ve seen a decline from our Champions League mainstay status. Of course, this cannot be shovelled onto Xhaka’s shoulders alone, however, the timing is suspect for some fans who already have set their agenda against Xhaka.
It’s difficult to know how to correctly deploy Xhaka because he suffers in his position on the pitch. He can do one part of the game incredibly well which is the reason for all that excitement on his arrival just two years ago. However, he does not do the second part of the game that his position expects at all well which has led to some fans branding him a complete flop. The good cannot necessarily weigh out the bad, nor the bad outweigh the good, but there must be an answer to this ongoing conundrum. Xhaka has suffered from being left far too exposed on so many occasions, and that exposure has somehow made him look worse than any of his deep-lying partners. None of them have ever offered any true protection to our back line, it’s true, but this is not necessarily Xhaka’s job, nor has it ever stated as much on his CV. The problem with playing in a deep midfield role, is people expect you to sweep up and give some defensive stability without thinking about how a deep-lying midfielder can have a big impression in terms of attacking structure. There must be a reason why so many managers have him as one of the first names on the team sheet. Like I’ve said, however, the good cannot always outweigh the bad.
Xhaka’s lack of defensive discipline could well be the reason for the club being so eager to sign Lucas Torreira. Could Torreira be the key to bring the best out of Xhaka, without us giving away too many chances to opposition teams? It’s yet to be seen. We haven’t seen enough of these two playing together, though when we have, it looks good. On paper, this partnership looks like our best option of a two playing in deeper roles of the midfield, but we will have to wait and see.
Unfortunately, in my personal and humble opinion, I think that Granit Xhaka and Arsenal football club are a mismatch. Since Xhaka’s arrival at the club, watching our games is like watching games from 3/4 seasons ago but on half speed. We have become incredibly slow in our build up to attack when we used to sweep up the pitch and score before a team really knew what was happening. Also, we don’t have the kind of defensive stability to accommodate a deep-lying midfielder that can’t defend. It has and will continue to, show significant cracks and faults both at the back and in Xhaka’s game. With a fan base ready and waiting with the pitchforks and torches for anybody that makes a mistake, Xhaka was always going to become some sort of scapegoat. He does not deserve the hate that he receives, he hasn’t been used to the best of his abilities, but he does not deserve the utmost praise either.
In conclusion, Xhaka is like a tool at the bottom of the toolbox that you have no bloody clue how to use. There must be a purpose, but we can’t figure it out, and while we can’t figure it out, we’ve got 10 different experts telling us 20 different things. Granit Xhaka is a conundrum, and we don’t have the answer. Certainly not yet.