In defence of Granit Xhaka: 7 stats that prove he’s playing better than you think
Granit Xhaka has learned this season that English football can be an unforgiving place; patience is in short supply at the best of times for players, managers and clubs in the Premier League.
Following a summer that saw some big money spent on bringing a 24-year-old midfielder over from the continent to steer one of the league’s former champions into a top four finish and maybe even a title challenge, his team’s struggles to climb back into the Champions League places have seen the new arrival lambasted for failing to deliver.
No, not Paul Pogba, but Granit Xhaka. The former Borussia Monchengladbach anchorman was supposed to be the answer to all of Arsenal’s problems in the middle. A dictator of play, a winner of the ball and exactly the sort of deep-lying dreadnought that fans at the Emirates had been craving to see step out in their club’s colours for years. Xhaka was to be the midfield general others had failed to become for the Gunners.
Yet so far, it’s fair to say the reviews have been mixed at best. Advocates for the Swiss international have taken a similar line of argument as Pogba’s fans in Manchester, claiming that their manager was letting the player down by sticking him in the wrong midfield combination. They wanted to see Xhaka in a midfield three, not a midfield two – never mind that he often lined up in a duo for Gladbach.
Arsene Wenger’s recent switch to lining his side up in a 3-4-2-1 formation was partly devised to help give the bludgeoning ex-Basel playmaker a sturdier defensive platform in order to allow him to better express himself.
“There is also more freedom for Xhaka because we have a bit of cover behind him,” wrote the Frenchman in his programme notes ahead of Arsenal’s 1-0 win over Leicester City.
However, regardless of the shape of the team built around him, it could be argued that the Swiss midfielder has been hard done by. Too many conclusions have been drawn about his quality before the 24-year-old has had the chance and the time to truly prove himself playing a position that can only truly be mastered through maturity, understanding and wisdom.
Below are seven stats to show why Xhaka has already done more good for Arsenal than has been advertised.
1. Most passes completed 90 minutes in the Premier League this season
The Swiss international is top of the table for passes completed per 90 minutes in the league this season.
He has played more successful passes than any of the Premier League’s other prolific players of the ball, putting Xhaka ahead of Jordan Henderson, Mohamed Elneny, Ander Herrera, Yaya Toure and Cesc Fabregas.
2. Xhaka has completed 84% of his take ons
The 24-year-old hasn’t just excelled at finding his teammates in possession. He has also proven himself highly capable of bringing the ball forward under his own steam to drive on past opponents through the middle of the park.
From 19 attempted take ons, Xhaka has completed 16 at a success rate of 84%. While he may not be a prolific dribbler, he is capable of evading aggressors and breezing through challengers when he needs to.
3. Second in the league for threading killer balls forward
Only Paul Pogba has attempted more through balls from outside the final third in the Premier League this season than Xhaka.
The Frenchman has tried to play a killer ball from deep nine times while the Arsenal midfielder has attempted eight. While Pogba has found a runner three times, Xhaka has completed two of his efforts to slip a pass through to find an attacker on the move.
4. Top for tackles for the Gunners
No other players in Arsene Wenger’s squad has won back possession through their tackles as many times as the Swiss midfielder.
Xhaka has seized possession with tackles more often than any other Arsenal player this season in the Premier League, snatching the ball away from an opponent 52 times.
5. Arsenal’s most creative player from deep
No player has created more chances from outside the final third for the Gunners in the league this season than Xhaka, with eight.
He has also been involved in building up attacking moves from deep by supplying the pass before the final ball to find a teammate in a good position to create a chance or assist a goalscorer.
6. Long ball specialist
Xhaka is fifth for successful long passes in the Premier League this season.
Jordan Henderson (157), Toby Alderweireld (154), Eric Dier (153) and Paul Pogba (152) are the only outfield players to have completed more than the Arsenal midfielder, whose ability to switch the play and find players from range has seen him find his target 139 times with his long balls.
7. Only Mesut Ozil has created more chances in the run-in
Since returning to regular Premier League action in March 4 2016, only Mesut Ozil has created more chances for Arsenal than Xhaka.
The German has crafted 12 goalscoring opportunities in five games compared to 10 from seven for the Swiss international, who has also contributed an average of two defensive actions per game – no midfielder has made more.
With the Gunners still facing a serious fight to secure a top four finish and Champions League football for next season, Xhaka could yet be the difference maker from deep this season that his detractors have claimed he has failed to become.