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Granit Xhaka needs to fill Santi Cazorla role in Arsenal’s midfield

xhaka-cazorla

Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla may not get the same recognition as his superstar teammates Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil, but the Spanish midfielder is surely one of the more important players for the Gunners.  The 5’5” playmaker was a quintessential Arsene Wenger buy during the time in which Emirates Stadium was being financed.  Cazorla, who was already a proven Spain international at the time of his arrival to north London in 2012, was brought in from cash-strapped Malaga for somewhere in the £12-15 million area.

Whether Cazorla will end up being an Arsenal “legend” or not is debatable, but the ambidextrous midfielder did help bring the club’s trophy drought to an end by winning the FA Cup in 2014.  Heading into the current campaign, Cazorla has collected two FA Cups and two Community Shields in four seasons with the Gunners.

Now nearing 32 years of age, Cazorla was in the midst of yet another solid season before suffering an achilles injury against Ludogorets in October.  While the issue was initially thought to take just a few weeks to heal, Arsenal eventually announced that the Spaniard would have surgery and could be out of action for up to three months.

To soften the blow of losing Cazorla for an extended period of time, Wenger has deployed Aaron Ramsey, Mohamed Elneny, and Granit Xhaka in the “Santi role” during the nine significant matches in which Cazorla has missed so far.  Although Ramsey and Elneny are quality players, and could do a fine job in the position for the Gunners, Xhaka seems the most logical of the three choices.

The Switzerland international has an impressive record so far with his new team.  In the eleven matches in which Xhaka has made the starting XI, Arsenal have yet to lose a game (nine wins and two draws).  Much like Cazorla, the Swiss central midfielder is composed on the ball.  Xhaka is sporting an 89% pass success rate in both the Champions League and Premier League, and has fairly similar distribution numbers as the injured Arsenal ace.

During 2016/17 Premier League and Champions League:

cazorla-xhaka-comparison

While Xhaka may be able to hang with Cazorla’s passing abilities, the two players do not exactly have the same type of style. Xhaka is more of a physically imposing, tough-tackling midfielder (28 tackles compared to the Spaniard’s 6), while Cazorla is silky smooth with his feet and plays a lot of short passes. Nevertheless, Xhaka deserves the nod over Ramsey and Elneny at the CM position due to the Swiss international’s well-rounded play.

Wenger has only deployed Ramsey at the CM position twice since the start of the season, and the Wales international has not looked confident of late. Elneny, on the other hand, is very much a similar player to Xhaka; however, the latter midfielder has a bit more quality overall. With Cazorla set to be out until at least February, look for Xhaka to start playing more consistently now, especially since the former Borussia Monchengladbach man has had time to settle with his new club.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Nick

    December 9, 2016 at 10:14 am

    Xhaka’s playmaking is underrated; his preference to play the long pass and switch fields has opened up Arsenal’s attack and sped up counter breaks. Cazorla links better in tight spots which suited the team while Alexis was on a wing, but with speed up front and on the wings Xhaka may end up fitting into the squad even better. Ramsey has no place in this side- he rarely picks the right pass; has a shoot first (even in bad spots) mentality; lacks true break neck speed; and cannot tackle.

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