There are not too many more polarizing players in the Premier League than Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka. The 26-year-old Switzerland international is often widely criticized by both Gunners fans and rival supporters. Many tend to focus on his errors leading to goal (two this season), while ignoring the plethora of other positive statistics that help his team. Yet despite this criticism, Xhaka’s importance in the Arsenal squad, as well as Switzerland, is increasing by the game.
Xhaka has been sidelined for Arsenal’s last three Premier League matches. The midfielder, who is normally a mainstay in his team’s starting XI, has been dealing with a slight groin injury over the last couple of weeks. In his absence, head coach Unai Emery has deployed Matteo Guendouzi in the ‘Xhaka role’ next to Lucas Torreira. The 19-year-old Frenchman is a major prospect for the future and Mesut Özil even claimed that the former Lorient midfielder is the best young player at the club.
Despite Guendouzi being a highly-rated youngster, Arsenal have certainly missed Xhaka in their midfield over the last three league matches. While the Gunners did win two of the three matches, their midfield has not been as strong with the Swiss international on the sideline. Though a small sample size, successful passes, key passes, tackles, and interceptions have been down in this position.
Per 90 minutes during league play
Xhaka normally gives Arsenal a solid transition from defense to offense. Defenders make a conscious effort to give him the ball when trying to move forward. Averaging about 84 passes per game in midfield, Xhaka has the third most pass attempts in the Premier League from this area. The Swiss international’s distribution is also extremely balanced. While some midfielders specialize in short passing or just hoof it forward, Xhaka is accurate in both short and long passes.
The Arsenal midfielder ranks fourth in successful short passes amongst Premier League players in his position, while also racking up the third most accurate long balls as well. Along with his excellent distribution, Xhaka is a natural leader on the pitch. Vocal and tough, his personality is also an important attribute to his teammates. Xhaka seemingly helps to instill Emery’s philosophy on the pitch, while also giving the Gunners a much-needed edge.
Emery has also given Xhaka the captain armband four times during the Premier League campaign so far this season and Arsenal have recorded victories in all four matches (including the 4-2 comeback win over bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur). Arsenal fans should be happy to know that Xhaka has returned to light training and will be back on the pitch soon. The Gunners do not have a Premier League match until February 24th against Southampton.