No Arsenal player has caused more division among the fans than Granit Xhaka. The perplexing thing about the division is that, both sides of the argument holds a valid view, courtesy of the player himself.
I have found myself drowned in this conversation lately. Some argue that Granit Xhaka has no business playing for Arsenal‘s reserves, let alone the first XI. This sentiment has further buttressed with Xhaka’s performances, for the last 3 seasons at the very least.
To cap it off, comparisons with players of top 6 playing in the same position as Xhaka is the biggest stick used to whip home this sentiment.
I know this is kind of some bedroom conversation but going online and checking out various Arsenal forums, including AFTV, it is evident that this topic is not as nucleated as it sounds. If anything, it seems like the next source of division in opinions amongst the general Arsenal faithful.
So I believe it is only fair that we take a look at how a midfielder who cost the Gunners a whooping £35 million under a very frugal manager like Arsene Wenger, lost his way.
It is important to note that Swiss international is not a defensive midfielder. He is actually a covering midfielder who’s job is to control the game as a deep-lying playmaker by releasing attackers with incisive passes and disrupting opposition movement with strong plays.
He also provides a goal threat from a distance in the event the opposition cluster around their box and deprive forwards, places to exploit.
Such attributes make him key in any team that is attacking minded as well as infused with the high pressing game style.
Hence, Wenger’s decision to play him as a defensive midfielder as a result of lack in that department, can be directly linked to his inconsistency which has only begun to fade away under Unai Emery.
To be a defensive midfielder, one must be very skilled at dispossessing the opponent, intercepting passes and nimble to recover openings behind him, as well as in front of the back-four.
Needless to say that the above listed attributes aren’t top on the former Gladbach man’s list of abilities. Judging him by seasons under Wenger, playing as a DM rather than his natural position as a CM, is like judging a fish’s ability and use based on its ability to fly or climb a tree.
As much as it will be difficult for me to select Swiss ahead of players like Wjnaldum of Liverpool, Jorginho of Chelsea, Bernando Silva of Man City etc., it is important to note that, this is the first season that he is playing in his natural and preferred position. Hence, it is only prudent to watch the first half of the season, before any real comparisons or judgments can be made.
What he lacks in pace whilst building an attack, he more than makes up for, by his precise long ranged passing ability and where spaces are lacking to pass into, he does have a rocket of a shot to unleash.
Just to be clear though, Xhaka can be quite annoying sometimes with risky passes that provide chances for the opposition as well as his lack of press resistance, but that simply doesn’t define all of him as a professional player.
In a nutshell, it is OK to criticize Granit Xhaka whenever he messes up on the pitch, but it is highly unfair and illogical to fail to praise him when he performs well.
In Emery’s own words;
“Granit Xhaka is very important for us.”