Arsenal officially announced the arrival of their new singing Swiss international Granit Xhaka a couple of days ago (yes, it’s still MAY!) for an undisclosed fee (obviously), however reports suggest that initial fee for the former Borussia Monchengladbach captain was £25m rising up to £30m depending on performance and bonuses. Wenger, who is often criticized for not signing players early in the summer transfer market has pulled off a big signing in the month of May.
Right, let’s get down to business. Who is Granit Xhaka and what will he bring to this current Arsenal side?
Xhaka or ‘the little Einstein’ as some of his former colleagues like to call him for his love of science, is a 23 year old midfielder who was plying his trade in Bundesliga for the past 4 years. He was made the captain at the beginning of last season after former captains Martin Stranzl and Tony Jantschke were both reeling with injuries. He joined Borussia Monchengladbach in the summer of 2012 from FC Basel, his childhood club for a fee of around £6.5m. The Swiss international was part of the Under 17 team which won the World Cup back in 2009.
Born to Kosovo-Albanian parents, Granit chose to play for Switzerland instead of Albania which didn’t particularly go down well following which he was booed in a friendly international between Switzerland and Albania. His big brother Taulant Xhaka is also a professional footballer who plays as a defender for FC Basel. Interestingly enough, Switzerland and Albania have been drawn in the same group for the upcoming Euros 2016 and the brothers will be facing off each other as Taulant plays for the Albanian International team. Granit’s performance in the upcoming Euros will be a good judgment for what he will bring to his new club.Xhaka in full flow while representing the Swiss National team.
Arsenal fans have been crying out for a defensive midfielder (with a certain presence and steel) since a few years now and with Xhaka they will get exactly that. Tackles, interceptions and breaking up opposition attacks are a major part of his game. The six feet one inch midfielder is an aggressive player, a workhorse who will put in a shift for the team and someone who won’t shirk away when confronted by opposition players. He received 7 yellow and 3 red cards last season for his former team which is a good (or shall I say sort of bad) indicator of his aggressive style of play. The Gunners have often been accused of being ‘too soft’ and lacking leaders in the past, Xhaka should be able to fill in that void. Having been appointed captain of the Gladbach side at just 22, he has proven leadership qualities and plenty of experience in Champions League & International football at a young age.
In addition to adding steel to the Arsenal’s midfield, he should also add plenty of flair. Xhaka possesses excellent short, long range and one touch passing ability. More importantly, he will be able to conduct proceedings in the second phase of buildup [after receiving a forward pass from a central defender] and dictate play. His innate long range passing ability and crossfield through balls to wingers while still sitting deep in midfield will help the Gunners stretch the game, enabling them to widen the football pitch and break down those packed defenses. Players like Alexis Sanchez and (dare I say) Theo Walcott should be exploiting this new armory which will add a new dimension to their overall attack. Xhaka can combine with either Cazorla or Wilshere in the midfield pivot against smaller teams who usually park the bus against Arsenal making it difficult to break them down. Consecutively, he can also combine with either Coquelin or Elneny against big teams to add defensive resilience and provide cover to the back four while spraying passes to initiate counterattacks when in possession.
Last season, Arsenal were struggling to buildup from deep and dictate pace of the game after Cazorla’s injury. Ozil had to often drop down deep in midfield to get things moving. Elneny’s addition in January and his subsequent addition in the starting XI from March helped the cause a bit. However, they were still missing that smooth transition of play from defence to attack in Cazorla’s absence. Xhaka’s addition means Arsenal now have 2 excellent deep lying playmakers who are proficient enough to do the job in case the other gets injured. Arsenal’s title challenge fell flat last season (to a certain extent) due to injuries to key Central Midfielders and the absence of adequate cover. With Xhaka, Cazorla, Coquelin, Ramsey, Wilshere and Elneny all vying for two spots in Central Midfield next season, Wenger finally has plenty of options to choose from along with adequate cover in case of an injury.
To sum it up, Xhaka is an exciting new addition to the Premier League. You can be a better judge of the technical side of his game after a few games but his work rate and enthusiasm should be noticeable from the word go!
By Anand N, TFN Columnist on 26/05/2016 at 22:32
Follow Anand on Twitter @Xhakaal