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An in-depth look at Granit Xhaka’s misunderstood game

Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka has been one of the more scrutinized players in the Premier League since he joined the Gunners in 2016. Decision making and lack of discipline from the Swiss international appear to be the biggest issues for fans around the world. Despite these supposed problems, it seems as if every manager that Xhaka has played for has rated him fairly highly. Heiko Vogel, Lucien Favre, Ottmar Hitzfeld, Vladimir Petkovic, Arsene Wenger, and now Unai Emery have all stuck by the midfielder.

So why does Xhaka turn off so many fans? Looking into the numbers, the Arsenal midfielder has made costly mistakes in possession. Since the start of the 2017/18 campaign, the Swiss player has made three errors leading to goals in Premier League play. While this is tied for fifth most in the league during that stretch, he is also level with Nicholas Otamendi, Jordan Pickford, and Cedric Soares.

Although he has made a few costly errors, it is also apparent that Xhaka does not necessarily make a ton of mistakes throughout matches. In fact, his overall dispossessed numbers during this same time frame are lower than Fernandinho, N’Golo Kante, and Nemanja Matic, three highly-regarded players. Also, the amount of times Xhaka has been dribbled past by opponents is comparable to these players as well.

Premier League play since the start of 2017/18

Perhaps lost in the microscopic analysis of Xhaka’s game is just how exceptional his distribution is. Leading the entire Premier League in passes last season, there is a misconception that the 25-year-old midfielder just plays short passes sideways and backwards to his defenders. This, however, is in necessarily the case. While Xhaka does pass short fairly often, he also plays long passes as well as any other player in England’s top flight. In fact, he led all midfielders in accurate long balls during the 2017/18 campaign and even has the most accurate long passes of any outfield player in the league since joining the Gunners.

Along with the sheer number of accurate long passes, his accuracy rate of 67% in these passes ranks remarkably high among Premier League players as well. For reference, Jonjo Shelvey, a player widely regarded as a top long-range passer, had an accuracy rate of 44% in long passes during the 2017/18 season with Newcastle.

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Xhaka’s position is also subject to much debate. Despite sitting in a deep position on the pitch and ranking fairly high in tackles with Arsenal, he is really more of a central midfielder. Along with his phenomenal overall distribution from the middle of the pitch, his key passes and assists are also impressive.

Overall, Xhaka is a valuable player and an elite distributor when he has time on the ball. Positionally, he will seemingly be better served with a player such as Lucas Torreira deployed next to him. The terrier-like Torreira can do the dirty work just in front of the back four in defense, while giving Xhaka the freedom to spray accurate passes more forward up the pitch. Xhaka is clearly a leader in the team and an important player for Arsenal, whether fans choose to rate him or not.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Benlux

    October 12, 2018 at 10:06 pm

    When the player is a good, he is good no need to do a long article to explain ,its the same sh&& with ozil,xhaka,mustafi.
    We need upgrades no lengthy,articles explaining that a one footed midfielder ,who can’t defend is the best. BS.

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