Is Granit Xhaka starting to prove the doubters wrong?
Arsenal ace is imposing himself on games
Arsenal produced their best display under Unai Emery so far to beat Fulham 5-1 on Sunday.
The Gunners’ incisive passing allowed them to control the game. Granit Xhaka didn’t score or set up any of the goals, but his ability to get the ball forward was a major feature in their play. The midfielder also wore the captain’s armband at Craven Cottage.
Xhaka has come under plenty of criticism during his time in North London. But he’s helped the team to rack up six consecutive league wins now. Has he finally turned a corner? The Coral News Team investigate…
One of the main reasons for the Swiss international’s struggles has been a lack of defensive protection. He was often the deepest midfielder under Arsene Wenger, with Aaron Ramsey alongside him and Mesut Ozil in the number 10 role ahead.
Both Ozil and Ramsey like to search for space, which means Xhaka was often left holding the fort on his own. For someone without speed or mobility, and who can be rash in the tackle, that’s far from ideal.
But Lucas Torreira’s arrival in the summer has changed things. The Uruguayan looks like the ball-winning midfielder Arsenal have been crying out for. And his presence allows Xhaka to focus on his strengths.
Xhaka has obvious flaws, but he’s got a great left foot. His ability to spray the ball around the pitch is vital to Arsenal’s build-up. Emery doesn’t have another midfielder who can move the ball into the final-third anywhere near as well.
Now that Torreira has taken over screening the back four, Xhaka has more licence to dictate play.
Take a look at his passing at home to Watford last season:
Here’s his passing from the same fixture this term:
There’s a noticeable difference in the positions he’s taking up this year. He’s moving into wide areas and getting higher up the pitch to try to influence the game, knowing that Torreira’s behind him to sweep up.
It allows Arsenal to use the ball better, while also helping to minimise Xhaka’s individual weaknesses.
Still room to improve
That’s not to say that he’s been flawless. He’s still vulnerable defensively and three yellow cards in eight league matches is a poor return.
And while his distribution is his biggest asset, he can be guilty of sloppy passes in dangerous areas.
But after two mixed years at the Emirates, he seems to have a role and midfield partner that suits him now. With a top-four spot a genuine possibility at 11/8, Xhaka’s recent improvement could have a big bearing over the course of the season.
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