Arsenal have kicked off the summer transfer window by signing Swiss central midfielder Granit Xhaka from Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach. And as delighted as one is by the prospect of the skipper of Germany’s 4th best team coming to our club, I must confess never really seeing much of the player. I’m not prepared to tell porkies and say I’ve known of him since he was 14 playing for his local under 15s side whilst working in a Lindt chocolate factory. I don’t watch a lot of foreign football because I have a full time job and an endless list of jobs to do around the house. So I bunkered down and researched him statistically to see what he may be able to bring to the Arsenal midfield because as good as YouTube is, you can’t take that much away from it so I prefer to infer from statistics.
The 15/16 season won’t be remembered for much in the annals of history, besides the hilarity of Spurs completely blowing up and finishing below us again. It was a disappointing season with the Arsenal out of form and sorts for the majority. For the first time I can remember we were really shy in terms of goals. For a lot of games we did not even looking like scoring a goal, which with our plethora of attacking players is worrying. All the blame should definitely not be laid at Giroud’s feet as it often is. The other major problem was our lack of midfield balance and structure. Once the team lost its Coqzorla axis the whole team was sent into an uncontrollable slide. This meant us seeing a more ‘tear em scare em’ approach to our play making us far too loose at the back and not cohesive enough in attack. We were basically trying to windmill Floyd Mayweather.
As much as Mr Xhaka may be looked at as improving our defensive midfield, I actually think, from looking at his stats he could be as bigger help on the lack of goals front. Our season went south when we lost Santi and Ramsey replaced him in the middle. So what can Granit do that the Welshman cant? Well for starters he averages 11 more passes per game with 79 to Ramsey’s 68 with 55 on average going forward to 42 respectfully. Which actually puts him closer to Santi’s averages of 80 and 57. All very impressive but what really sets him apart is his long ball stats averaging 7 accurate long balls a game to Santi’s 3.6 and Rambo’s 2. The only real area where he’s bottom is in pass completion which is 85% to Ramsey’s 86% and Cazorla’s incredible 90%. But it’s the long balls that excite me the most because it’s an option we haven’t had in our play. Once we lost our ambidextrous Andalusian last season, we lost with it his surgical precision to play through the lines. Which puts our match winners on to opposition defences quickly before they have a chance to set themselves. This should be something Granit can be successful at but instead of going through he can go over opposition midfields from deep, meaning Sanchez, Ozil and co can have unorganised defences to terrorise So with quicker transitions from defence to attack we should expect more goals and faster attacks. How the Arsenal should be!
Long passing shills and range
Despite giving all that offensively the Swiss international still gives as much as our best defensive midfielder defensively. Obviously I can’t comment on his defensive positioning because I haven’t seen enough of him to make any conclusions. But from a statistical point of view he’s superb. On average winning 2 tackles per game just behind Le Coq who has 2.19. On interceptions he has 2.6 per game to the Frenchman’s 2.92. But what he brings new to the centre of the park is aerial prowess. Winning on average 3.21 of his aerial duels per game. None of our central midfielders even averaged above one last season. That’s Coquelin, Cazorla, Ramsey, Flamini and Elneny not averaging winning above 1 aerial battle per game. Pretty damning and worrying. The other thing Mr Xhaka’s known for is his gob and a voice on the pitch is always good. When you’re lost in the eye of tornado that is a football game the instructions given by fellow player can be invaluable.
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Costing around £30 million you’d expect him to be a starter in Arsene’s team but who’d you partner him with? I’d like to think he’d be the constant and his partner would change depending on opposition but we know that’s not really the Wenger way. He likes cohesion and familiarity. He could easily be Coquelin’s Cazorla or Cazorla’s Coquelin but I have a worrying feeling he’ll first of go with the Ramsey option to try and recapture the welsh wizards form from 2013. It’s not that I think he’s a bad footballer it’s just he’s too loose with the ball to play central midfield for Arsenal. He loses the ball on average 2.1 times per game from having a poor touch. Where Xhaka, Coquelin, Cazorla and Elneny are 1, .5, .9 and .7 respectively. Then there’s how often he’s dispossessed, on average 2.7 times per game with Cazorla being the next worse with 1.3. Whereas the other three don’t get above one and he gets dribbled past 1.9 times per game. Surprise surprise that’s the most of any of them with Coquelin and Xhaka posting the best, boasting only an average of .8 per game. Ramsey’s future has to lie further forward because you cannot be that lose and easy to play against in the centre of the park.
Personally if I had to pick one partner for him it would be Coquelin.I love a double pivot that has the balance of silk and fire, both with the ability to defend. Like my favourite combinations of past teams, Milan’s Gattuso and Pirlo, Liverpool’s Alonso and Mascherano and of course our own Petit and Vieira. Be hard to beat as well as hard to play against.
So on paper it seems a fantastic addition that we should all be genuinely excited about. He can seemingly attack like Cazorla and defend like Coquelin. Which makes one fantastic all round midfielder player. It also mean Le Prof has a fantastic platter of central options available but also a predicament in trying to keep them all happy, especially if were blessed with a fully fit Jack Wilshere for the season. Obviously time will tell if it will be a great but if he finishes the job in the transfer window and gets that striker and centre half we need, we might well be real title challengers.