Granit Xhaka: Player Profile
Posted by Aaron C-Reid | Published on July 19, 2016
This summer looks to be a crucial one for Arsenal. They Continue to be linked with every striker under the sun. However, it is the signing of Granit Xhaka that could be the most important of all. World cup winning defensive midfielder, Gilberto Silva, left Arsenal in 2007 and ever since the Gunners have struggled in that department. While Francis Coquelin has steadied the ship, they have lacked a commanding deep lying midfielder of the ilk of Silva, Vieira or Petit in recent seasons. Arsene Wenger has finally made a big money move for a defensive midfielder, but is he really what they need?
Name: Granit Xhaka
Place of birth: Basel, Switzerland
Position: Defensive midfielder
Born in Basel, to Albanian parents, Xhaka is the younger of two footballing brothers. Both Granit and his older sibling, Taulant Xhaka, came through the ranks at Basel before Granit departed for Gladbach in 2012. While Granit chose to play for Switzerland, his brother opted for Albania.
By that stage, he had won two Swiss Super League titles and a Swiss Cup, bringing home the Young Player of the Year award in 2012 and leading former Basel coach Thorsten Fink to say: “Xherdan Shaqiri is the best talent in Switzerland…after Xhaka.”
Xhaka became a full Swiss international by the age of 18, attracting plenty of attention from many of Germany’s big clubs. He joined Gladbach at the age of 19, swiftly becoming a key cog in their midfield. He went on to make 108 appearances for the German outfit, as well as taking the captain’s armband on several occasions. His stint at Gladbach was very successful and 4 years on he has joined Arsenal for a fee believed to be in the region of £30 million.
Growing up, Xhaka’s idol was Zinedine Zidane but former national team boss Ottmar Hitzfeld likened him to a “young Schweinsteiger” instead. His playstyle is quite unique, reminiscent of Sergio Busquets of Barcalona. He tends to sit deep, marshalling the midfield.
Once nicknamed “Little Einstein” due to his passion for science, Xhaka is intelligent in possession, composed on the ball, and kept things ticking over for Gladbach with an 85 percent pass completion percentage last season, second best on the team. He was named in the official Bundesliga team of the season, along with the likes of Arturo Vidal and Thomas Muller.
He consistently ranked in the top 30 Bundesliga players for tackles and interceptions per game, but that combative style has landed him in disciplinary trouble too, with Xhaka leading the league for red cards (three) and second for fouls per game (2.6).
But his all-action-approach is one that Arsenal fans feel they desperately need. The Gunners’ midfield lacks aggression and strength, two attributes Xhaka possesses in abundance. At 6 feet and 1 inch, Xhaka combines the physical frame and range of passing to hold his own. He likes to find small gaps in the middle of the park and carefully place pinpoint passes to his teammates in the final third. The Swiss international’s direct approach in the use of forward passing is another thing Arsenal fans will be impressed by.
He doesn’t score many, just three last season, but when he does they’re usually stunners. Xhaka has won Gladbach’s Goal of the Year each of the last two years. He certainly has a stunning strike in his locker, with a venomous left boot. After impressing at Euro 2016, with 3 man of the match awards for the Swiss, the Emirates faithful have sky-high expectations that Xhaka will be the solution to Arsenal’s DM crisis.
Where will he play at Arsenal?
Xhaka will most likely be a starter in the defensive midfield role in Arsenal’s preferred 4-2-3-1 system. He will probably replace Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny as the first choice DM. Due to Xhaka’s composure on the ball, he will probably be partnered by Aaron Ramsey in a midfield pivot. Ramsey tends to thrive when played alongside a good passer, such as Joe Allen and Mikel Arteta, so Xhaka’s arrival could mean Ramsey replicating his form from the Euros and the 2013/14 season.
When asked by Monchengladbach’s club magazine what he would do if Arsenal wanted to sign him with his shirt number 34 already occupied by Coquelin, he replied: “It was also like that at Gladbach, with Amin Younes and at Arsenal Coquelin has it.”
Xhaka then joked Coquelin would take another shirt number. He said: “Yes, I’ve spoken with him, he would like to take another number (laughs).” However, the Swiss international will occupy the number 16 after it was vacated by Aaron Ramsey, who is now number 8.
On sealing Xhaka’s signature, Gunners boss Arsene Wenger said: “Granit Xhaka is an exciting young player, already with good Champions League and Bundesliga experience. We have been watching him for a long time now and he is a player who will add quality to our squad.”
In February, Xhaka said: “Everybody has a dream. Everybody has a childhood dream and that’s mine [to play in the Premier League]. If it comes true, it remains to be seen. At the moment I cannot say how realistic it is.”
After completing his move, Xhaka told Arsenal’s official website: “I’m very proud to be joining Arsenal. I cannot wait to move to London, represent this special club and play in the Premier League. I will give everything to help Arsenal win trophies and make the fans happy.”
The Swiss starlet was taken on a tour of the Emirates last week and he claimed he “loved” his new home ground. He also said Arsenal were “The best team in the world” when asked why he had signed for the London club.
Xhaka clearly appears to have settled in well and it will be interesting to see how he performs in the English top flight with Arsenal in the coming season.