Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka is one of those rare breed of footballers who possess a certain kind of versatility and dynamism which is not quite seen in today’s modern game. He has the panache for playing piercing inch perfect long passes in the heat of the game and isn’t one to shy away from making a tough meaty tackle either.
A tough tackling midfielder, Xhaka likes to operate as an anchorman who is required to sit deep and dictate the play, effectively pulling the strings from the heart of the midfield and has the ability to turn defense into attack in the blink of an eye.
Signed in the summer for a reported fee of £30m after spending four seasons at Borussia Monchengladbach, Xhaka arrivied having captained his side for two seasons and building quite a reputation for himself at the age of 24.
The Switzerland midfielder made his debut for Basel at the age of 17 and went on to sign for Lucien Favre’s team at the age of 19 where he was handed the captaincy at the age of just 22. Such was his popularity there that a section of Gladbach fans cry “Football God" when the 23-year-old’s name is read out. During his time at Gladbach he helped the club secure back to back Champions League qualification and had developed a kind of cult hero status at the club.
Seen as an upgrade to our former captain Mikel Arteta, Xhaka brings a sense of comptetion to our midfield having a certain combination of qualities last seen in Arteta. Xhaka has the ability to play in the base of the midfield sitting in front of the defense, a controlling presence from deep he can play the constant sideways passes which keep the midfield ticking while providing the occasional piercing passes to find pacy runners behind the opponents line of defense. His former national team coach Ottmar Hitzfeld also likened his this style of play to that of Bastien Schweinsteiger.
Xhaka certainly has a tough tackling defensive side to his game, saying that he merely protects the defense doesn’t quite justify his contribution to the team. He is assured in all aspects of the defensive side of his game and more often than not likes to lunge in when the ball is at the opponents feet with a great deal of effectiveness. At 6ft 1in, Xhaka certainly has the physical frame to slug it out on the field and hold his own in this League and isn’t one to shy away from a fight.
“I’m an aggressive player and also a leader. I’m only 23 but I captained a good team in Germany,"
“I like the style of football in the Premier League,"
“It’s a fight. I like that but Arsenal can also play football and that’s very good".
However, he is one of those players who has the natural ability to tackle and intercept with both aggression and confidence and can play the long passes and come in from deep and distribute the ball quite efficiently. He is an excellent and astute reader of the game as demonstrated in the game against Watford. This intelligence and guile is what made Arsene Wenger personally rate him as a box-to-box rather than the tough tackling holding midfielder that the world knows him as. Describing his intention to utilize Xhaka as a box-to-box player Wenger said :
He has the stature, he has the power, he has the strength (to impose himself on a game). What we want is to use that in a very efficient way.
‘I personally prefer him as a box-to-box player, because he has the engine, he has the power, he has the long pass, he likes to come deep and distribute the game.
But he has the engine to have the impact with his runs.
His ability to belt out the occasional stunners dosen’t do his reputation any harm either. As shown in the games against Hull and Nottingham Forest he can produce the occasional “Xhaka boom" to stun fans and oppositions alike.
Xhaka along with our other new signing Mustafi has quite literally added some steel to the balance of the team leaving Arsenal fans like me reminiscing about the good old days when Legendary players like Viera, Keown, Adams, Dixon used to take to the field in an Arsenal shirt and would make opposing teams shudder in the tunnel just by standing beside them.
Players like that would make you realize as soon as the ball rolls after the whistle that its a team of men and not boys who have taken the field and are definitely not afraid of getting their hands dirty during the game. This team with players like Mustafi, Xhaka, Koscielny , Coquelin certainly reminds me of that and they do have the character and personality to emulate them.
His versatility of being able to play anywhere the manager demands of him makes him the complete player he is. In Layman’s term he can be the Coquelin in your team , play the role of Santi and replicate Ramsey if needed and that is unparalleled in today’s game. Given his drive and determination to prove himself, ability to grind it out and intelligence to excel in the modern game we can certainly be rest assured that our 24 year old “swiss army knife " will be bossing it soon in the premier league in the years to come by