Granit Xhaka is certainly a player that divides opinion.
This article is not to point out that the Swiss international is not a good player because he is a good player.
Xhaka does a lot of things very well and his stats illustrate this but his decision making has let him down, driven Arsenal fans mad and that’s why Arsene Wenger may struggle to trust him when it matters.
Xhaka’s season in numbers
This season, Xhaka has started 15 Premier League games (featuring in 19, total). Here we’re comparing him to his team-mates, as well as the rest of the Premier League.
Xhaka is one of the most consistent in the league for his passing volume and accuracy.
His successful distribution in the opposition’s final third is also excellent, particularly given his position from defensive midfield.
425 passes inside his own half puts the Swiss further down the list, which Henderson tops with 759.
Nevertheless his accuracy of 93% in this area is excellent and his totals further forward show most of his good work is as a positive influence on the team to start attacks.
Xhaka’s 13 bad touches is extremely low, especially when compared with Paul Pogba who has had 59. He’s been dispossessed just 11 times (the highest has 69), whilst his club and overall ranking for these two areas happen to be are identical.
His 24 fouls is the same as Jordan Henderson, it’s also roughly half Victor Wanyama or Pogba’s total and lower than Ander Herrera, Oriol Romeu, Gareth Barry, Idrissa Gueye, Danny Drinkwater, N’Golo Kante and Fernandinho.
His tackle count is very high and his interceptions not too bad, although he is behind Laurent Koscielny, Shrokdan Mustafi, Nacho Monreal and Francis Coquelin at Arsenal.
Ranked 38 for the number of times he’s dribbled past per game seems quite high but he’s dribbled past less often than Herrera (rank: 5), Romeu (6), Drinkwater (15), Gueye (16), Henderson (18), Fernandinho (20) and Adam Lallana (24).
Understandably, central midfielders are most involved are are dribbled past most often though compared to the rest, Xhaka keeps this reasonably low.
Xhaka is not in the team to score goals or even set them up, but looking at his chance creation map we can see that he’s still had a positive influence and gets the ball into good areas.
He’s struck up a good understanding with Alexis Sanchez – creating seven chances for the Chilean.
In addition, he’s created three chances apiece for Theo Walcott and Hector Bellerin and one each for Lucas Perez and Aaron Ramsey. His one assist (yellow, for Giroud) was against Bournemouth.
The short fuse
Those stats tell a good tale and whilst for long stretches he is good, the ones he does give away are very often important ones because the other area we know Xhaka excels at is ill discipline.
John Stones’ passing numbers are lovely too but we all know there’s been big moments for the City defender which he’ll not want to see again.
Xhaka has also had his fair share of big incidents. He’s been sent off twice in the Premier League – against Swansea and Burnley – and also given away two penalties, versus Stoke and Bournemouth.
The penalty incidents are probably counted as duels rather than tackles but if they’re not, on average, every 12.83 tackles he either gets booked, sent off or gives away a penalty.
Players playing further back can ill afford to make these errors and like a goalkeeper dropping a routine cross, they do become the things people focus on.
All those mistakes feel preventable and there’s an argument that more than one is “harsh”, but they’re all needlessly reckless.
Arsene Wenger on Xhaka’s red card against Burnley:
“It was a clumsy tackle. He has to learn from that. I think he’s quite intelligent on the pitch but it’s more the way he tackles that is not convincing. He doesn’t master well the technique of tackling – I would rather encourage him not to tackle, to stay on his feet.”
There is no stat for decision making and whilst all footballers make hundreds per game, it is the ability to stay calm under pressure that sets apart the very best.
Willing to admit to his errors
Xhaka has already said sorry to the Arsenal fans for his latest misdemeanour and he’s not afraid of an apology either – he did the same to the Borussia Monchengladbach fans after he’d received his fifth red card for the team in just 95 games (and third of the season).
He said sorry to Swiss supporters for missing a penalty at Euro 2016 too, which wasn’t a necessity especially given how hard on himself he was for it.
He also didn’t have to donate €20,000 to charity to show the Monchengladbach fans his remorse either.
It does prove that he is willing to take his mistakes on the chin and at 24 years old, that is admirable and shows a good mentality.
Xhaka played every minute for Switzerland at the Euro’s and had a certain tenacity and bite in midfield that Arsenal fans liked.
He enjoyed a good tournament and made the fourth most passes in the competition despite going out in the last 16.
He collected one yellow card and managed to keep a lid on things, despite always appearing to be “on the edge”.
Guilty of trying to over-impress
Still, his fight is what Arsenal need and so far this season he has shown he can do that in many games without making an error that costs his team.
The midfielder may be guilty of just wanting to impress a bit too much at his new club.
He has the quality, so if he can stick to his passing and take on what his manager has said then Xhaka will be a terrific player for Arsenal for many years.
It’s a big ‘if’ and a big second half to the season.
Written by Richard Clark
Follow Richard on Twitter @richardtheclark
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