After Arsenal’s emphatic win over Fulham, the gunners are flying high going into the rest of this season’s Premier league campaign. The praises have been rightfully lauded onto that of the debutants, Willian and Gabriel Magalhaes. However, little was said about one long-standing servant of the club though praises should have been sung for him given his quality performance once again. That player is Granit Xhaka.
Since arriving in North London, Xhaka has divided opinion massively. The first debate was whether or not he was a defensive midfielder and it was soon discovered that he wasn’t and still isn’t. Just because a midfielder is tall does not mean that they are inherently a defensive player. But having said that, it needs to be pointed that defensively he has improved over the years since joining Arsenal and as he gets older, he seems to be ageing like fine wine.
Back in October last year, however – the mood was very different. When Xhaka was substituted, the Emirates crowd jeered him off the pitch. This led to the Swiss captain responding by hurling the arm band in and shouting back at the fans in an aggressive manner.
Emery dropped him altogether and it looked as though the man bought from Borussia Monchengladbach was set to be sent back to Germany. Hertha Berlin was the club Xhaka was going to move to, however all changed once Mikel Arteta came in.
Since the arrival of the former Manchester City number two, Xhaka has shown just what he is capable of and has established himself as our most important midfielder. The fact is, when the big Swiss midfielder plays, Arsenal tend to win.
Granit Xhaka’s numbers last season in the Premier league:
29 starts (min. 45 mins completed) – 3 losses
Other 9 games – 7 losses
The bottom line is that Arsenal tend to struggle without Xhaka’s presence in the midfield – we need to find a way to cope in games where he is rested or injured.
Granit adds this unexplainable resilience to the side while also injecting an incredibly wide passing range to the midfield pivot zone too. Whether he is paired with Dani Ceballos, the soon to be outgoing Lucas Torreira, Mohamed Elneny, or Joe Willock, he always pulls his weight and is typically the common denominator that stays in the midfield from the start.
Because of this, Xhaka will surely be Arsenal’s next cult hero.
In my book, there are two types of cult heroes, the underappreciated greats and then the ones that are known for how bad they were.
Xhaka will be the former, not the latter. Granit is far more similar in performance terms to that of Nacho Monreal and Bacary Sagna than he is to Nicklas Bendtner or Marouane Chamakh. When Monreal and Sagna were at Arsenal they did not get the praise that they often times deserved. The weekly 7 out of 10 performances they put in were pivotal to our top four finishes in multiple seasons.
Similarly, Xhaka may make mistakes in matches, but his overall performances match in and out are all typical 6-7 out of 10 kind of ones. Additionally, people who blame Xhaka stating that we haven’t made Champions league football since his arrival are looking at it half glass empty. That can apply to virtually every good player we signed. The truth is he has been a constant, whilst his partners are forever fluctuating. The Thomas Partey saga is definitely one to keep and eye on and it will be interesting to see whether we can land him – big few weeks ahead.
In addition, Xhaka is also a very important dressing room figure within the squad. Mikel Arteta, via Arsenal.com, speaking about Xhaka, said:
“He’s a natural leader. He’s someone who is always 1,000 per cent committed, not just for himself but to help all his teammates all the time.”
For some odd reason, I will inevitably get flack and heat for this article, however the fact remains. Xhaka is a tremendous player that we are lucky to have. The amount of quality he adds to our midfield compiled with his natural leadership as well as impeccable stamina are all extremely helpful in our mission to get back to where we belong, the top.
He divides opinion and many people do not like him, but in truth that will help all the more to put Xhaka down in history as yet another cult hero at the club.