BLOCK OUT THE NOISE; GRANIT IS THE REAL DEAL.
During the recent UEFA EURO tournament won by Assistant Manager Ronaldo and Portugal, many were the talents, new and old, who set France alight with their dazzling skills and overwhelming talent. Some were already established names who came to the fore more; Ronaldo, Payet, Griezmann, Boateng, Kroos, whilst some were burgeoning talents; Renato Sanches, Kingsley Coman, Raphael Guerreiro amongst a host of others.
Certain players fell in the grey area between these two groups, players still young enough but with immense experience and talents who were not household names, and at the top of the group was a young man from Switzerland who was setting France ablaze with his ability to break up play and immediately recycle into penetrative forward passes; Granit Xhaka.
‘Stolen’ according to many analysts from Borussia Monchengladbach by Arsenal during the competition, Xhaka proved he was worth every pound shelled out for him as he won man of the match award after the other with his impressive displays in the middle of the park. He came with the notoriety of being undisciplined but like many Gunners would have agreed last summer, they would finally prefer a midfielder who had bite to accompany his bark and that was not going to be a problem. Many were the singing the praises of this astute piece of business from Arsene Wenger, in what went on to be quite a lavish summer, by Arsenal standards.
Fast forward almost a year later, Granit Xhaka is being hung out to dry after his first season in a different football league, in a different culture, by many of the same folk who proclaimed him true heir to Patrick Viera, who once glided across English pitches as if he owned the Buckingham Palace. Granit’s career so far in London has largely mirrored that of the club’s fortunes this season. From the almost heady heights, his first few goals, to the lowest of depths, his part in Spurs goal last weekend, his first season has shown his time here will never be a boring one.
Many are quick to label him overrated and not up to par but I beg to differ. We have a really good ‘baller’ on our hands here and for some of the bookings he has suffered, you can tell are due to his past transgressions in a different league and not cause they actually warrant them. Some tackles he makes even when clean are billed by some in the English media as horrible and warrant criminal proceedings but when similar are committed by Englishmen, such as Dier they ‘show grit, determination and a never-say-die attitude.’ The man simply cannot win.
Arsenal has always flattered to deceive in about a decade or more and this season we have been found out for being incredibly sub-par, especially with the calls for the head of Arsene Wenger reaching fever pitch, and as a result scape goats have been sought all season long among the playing corps. From Theo Walcott (who deserves flak every season he stays at the club), to Mesut Ozil, to the new poster boy for or failings, Granit Xhaka. Just like many across the club he has had many bad games and performances, but he has also shone on several instances and shown as well why all that money was churned out for him. His eye for picking a pass is almost unrivalled in the deep central midfield role in the country, and his break up of play whilst not being elite level is still immense.
The problem really with Xhaka has been at the hands of the man who truly has directly or indirectly been the cause of our failings in recent years, Arsene Wenger. His failure to actually know where and whom to play the Swiss with, from separate comments he made at the beginning of the season should have set of warning bells, stuck between playing him as a box-to-box midfielder or as deep lying playmaker, a la Xabi Alonso. Xhaka, since his time in Basel has thrived as a deep lying playmaker, even handling the role of defensive midfielder during his time in Germany exceptionally well. It was up to the manager to have realized this and played Xhaka in this role but several times he was paired with Coquelin who is simply a ball retaining midfielder, who knows not what to do with the ball after he receives it, thus pushing Xhaka forward and out of areas where he could immediately recycle the ball and hurt retreating defenses. Midfield pairings are very vital in the modern game and this is shown all over in Europe with the top sides. In the first leg of the UEFA Champions league match between Juventus and Barcelona, Sergio Busquets absence proved pivotal as Juve were able to take advantage and punish the Catalans.
I do not believe that amongst the ranks of midfielders employed by the teams above there are more than two or three who are better than Xhaka currently. With a manager who plays him in his best position, in front of the defence with a qualified partner, such as a younger Cazorla, it would unleash all his qualities as we saw in France last summer and maybe, just maybe those stories about him being the heir to Paddy Longlegs may come true. But forget all the garbage you hear from the incompetent ones among the press, Granit Xhaka, really is Granite!