If one were to be asked about the most useless midfielder who still starts for a top-6 club, the name ‘Granit Xhaka’ would take up a huge majority of the answers. There aren’t many people who rate the Swiss international as a player of quality; this includes Arsenal fans as well.
However, in reality, Xhaka’s performances and stats are almost on par with the likes of Jorginho and similar creative centre-midfielders. The former Gladbach man’s consistent performances have gone fairly unnoticed all the while getting singled out on rare, indirect mistakes.
But why do people seem to be ‘ignorant’, dare that word be used, to his efforts and genuinely good performances? Well, when we look back at the time when Xhaka first arrived in London, it isn’t too hard to notice the root of all things.
When the playmaker arrived back in May of 2016, for some odd reason, every Gooner expected him to be a defensive midfielder. It’s not clear what caused such a mindset – weather it was his notorious disciplinary issues or his tendency to slide in and tussle for the ball – but a huge majority saw him as a replacement to an out-of-form Francis Coquelin.
Xhaka’s case wasn’t made any better by Arsene Wenger who called him a box-to-box midfielder, confusing more fans into thinking he is something he is not.
“I personally prefer him as a box-to-box player,” Wenger said back in 2016 [via Independant]. “Because he has the engine, he has the power, he has the long pass. He likes to come deep and distribute the game, but he has the engine to have the impact with his runs
To clear things up, the Albanian descendant is a deep-lying playmaker, a creative midfielder whose job is to dictate the tempo of the game with long-balls, and creating chances. Xhaka is an excellent DLP who’s arguably the best long-range passer in the Premier League.
In fact, in terms of pass completion rate (87%), successful passes (73.41) and average pass length (18.53m), the Swiss calmly recorded better numbers than the likes of Paul Pogba (85%, 60.45, 16.67), Mesut Ozil (86%, 63.36, 15.23m), Gylfi Sigurdsson (76%, 18.34, 17.25m) and Aaron Ramsey (85%, 50, 15.38m) – all highly rated midfielders.
[Stats are presented in per 90 minutes ratio. Source: Squawka]
Moreover, the only player to have recorded more passes than Xhaka last season in Europe’s top five leagues is Jorginho, who is now being called the best regista around.
That aside, his performances aren’t as bad as ‘football experts’ on social media portray to be. The ex-Basel star was arguably the Gunners’ second best player last season, putting in consistent performances, but only to be booed down after unfortunate mistakes.
And the beckoning question would be ‘can an error prone player be any good?’
Wenger’s usual midfield pairing last term were Ramsey and Xhaka. And it is fairly obvious that the Welshman likes to play a more advanced role, which leaves his midfield partner isolated and exposed to pressing opposition players. Forcing a mistake out of an isolated midfielder isn’t too hard as anyone can imagine.
Furthermore, the former Gladbach captain having shown better performances when playing with a defensive minded midfielder like Mohamed Elneny or in a three-man midfield is testament to the flaw in the former Gunners boss’ midfield pivot. It is clear: offer some security in midfield, he will likely perform at his best.
And at his best, Xhaka has managed to outplay a midfielder like N’Golo Kante two seasons ago at the Emirates and in the FA Cup final, and drop truly great performances against the likes of Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.
Under new boss Unai Emery, the midfielder has only played alongside the likes of Matteo Guendouzi and Ramsey. Much like his teammate, Guendouzi likes to play an advanced role. So it is no surprise that the Swiss international suffered seemingly bad outings.
FUNNY FACT: Xhaka lost the ball 20 times in the whole season. Pogba 40 times Ramsey and Ozil 30+ times. But one bad game and you all are demonizing him.
Most completed passes by a midfielder , Most forward passes at Arsenal , most tackles. You all are just witch hunting Xhaka.
— Mr Momoh (@A1RMARSHALL_) August 18, 2018
This was very apparent during the Chelsea game, Xhaka performed bad because of the way the 19-year-old plays. The Frenchman offers no security in midfield. Despite that, Emery’s men got completely dominated in midfield after he was taken off at half-time.
Obviously, the new youngster is an exciting prospect to watch, but he may not be tactically the best partner in midfield unless there’s an anchor to secure the middle of the park. Lucas Torreira could be the perfect partner for the 25-year-old as the Uruguayan could watch his back for him, this could be the way to go forward.
Deep lying playmaker is a position this country has yet to even discover. He’s not Kante. He doesn’t play that role. Neither does Xhaka and he gets called a “holding midfielder” but by the end of the season I guarantee you these 2 will have completed the most passes for mids. https://t.co/DlZ6tMJnIo
— Tosi (@finallytosi) August 17, 2018
Nevertheless, nothing’s going to change until people stop making him out to be something he is not. If Xhaka is judged by the standards of a holding midfielder or a box-to-box, obviously we wouldn’t be able to appreciate his efforts. His role isn’t to defend perfectly or score consistently, it is to make sure he can find his teammates and vice verse. He is someone who captained an average Borussia Monchengladbach side to the Champions League and someone who became the youngest captain of the Swiss international team.
However, if one still refuses to acknowledge his ability and performances, they simply cannot appreciate greatness.