It is all about Granit Xhaka’s Calming Influence- Our Strongest Midfield Combination

As mentioned in squad analysis part two, the midfield is a major weak point within the current side. In this blog, I will look at the current crop of midfielders we have, analysing who is integral to the side in order for us to have a strong finish to the season.


Xhaka’s essential role

Xhaka is certainly a figure that divides opinion among the fan-base. After the Crystal Palace incident you really couldn’t see a way back for Granit but since Arteta arrival many have realised the influence he has on our performance level. Its evident when you looked at it statistically.

Under Arteta in premier league

With Granit completing 90 minutes

  • 6 wins
  • 5 draws
  • 0 loses

Without Granit completing 90 minutes

  • 0 wins
  • 3 draws
  • 0 losses

Arteta has stated he’s looking to install the fast, free flowing possession based football we’ve been deprived off for many years. He’s reiterated the need for more control in games, and Xhaka being a vital cog for this to happen. Playing that ‘deep lying play-maker role’, He provides the team’s structural integrity with majority of our passages of play and build up stemming from him.

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Vital to Arteta’s plans

Excellent passing range (averaging 4.7 long balls per 90) and ball progression are key traits he possesses in his game. One of his underrated attributes is the ability to break the lines frequently which quickens the tempo of our play and gives more time and space for our attackers to cause problems. Lack of ball retention, limited control and pedestrian style football is noticeable when he’s absent from the side. This is because our other CM’s in place are guilty of taking far too many touches on the ball which slows down the tempo at which we play, making it easier for the opposition to keep their defensive shape. Structure, fluidity and progressive play is lacking without Granit, and statistically it shows when compared to our other CM’s.

Team play analysis

Granit Xhaka

  • Minutes played: 2096, 25 starts
  • Total completed passes: 1582
  • Percentage of forward passes: 30%
  • Percentage of backwards passes: 14%
  • Pass completion percentage: 88%
  • Times dispossessed: 11

Matteo Guendouzi

  • Minutes played: 1748, 19 starts
  • Total completed passes: 1152
  • Percentage of forward passes: 27%
  • Percentage of backwards passes: 16%
  • Pass completion percentage: 88%
  • Times dispossessed: 21

Lucas Torreira

  • Minutes played: 1372, 15 starts
  • Total completed passes: 813
  • Percentage of forward passes: 25%
  • Percentage of backwards passes: 19%
  • Pass completion percentage: 88%
  • Times dispossessed: 9

Dani Ceballos

  • Minutes played: 1251, 13 starts
  • Total completed passes: 888
  • Percentage of forward passes: 24%
  • Percentage of backwards passes: 17%
  • Pass completion percentage: 88%
  • Times dispossessed: 22

One myth amongst the fan base is that Granit is far too negative in possession. Compared to our other CM’s, he ranks highest in terms of both forward passes and percentage of forward passes . Grant is regularly among the top performer’s in the league in total completed passes, with 88% pass accuracy.  Apart from Torreira, Xhaka has also been dispossessed on the fewest occasions, which demonstrates the control and excellent ball retention he provides, a key requirement in Arteta’s philosophy. Its clear that in possession, Granit is above the rest.


Xhaka compares will to his peers

Even when you compare him to both Rodri and Jorginho, two of the best deep lying play-makers in the league, Xhaka holds his own. Despite both Rodri and Jorginho completing more passes, the percentage of passes forward for the two are 21% and 30%. This indicates Granit’s forward thinking nature is slightly superior to Rodri and on par with Jorginho this season.

Out of possession, he fairs well amongst his other central midfield teammates. Only Ceballos averages more tackles per game (1.9) than Xhaka (1.6). But Granit is superior to the rest in both clearances (1.7) and blocks (0.5) per game, suggesting good defensive positioning around the box.

‘The way we want to play, there are not as many with his quality on the ball and the way he eliminates passes, and the range of his pass’ were Arteta’s comments on Xhaka back in January. He’s the deep lying playmaker, facilitator, and key to our attacking transitions but we must find the right personnel and balance around him so that he can flourish consistently.

Strongest midfield combination

The problem with Granit and both Rodri and Jorginho, is without the correct system and personal surrounding them, they become limited and prone to errors. Under Emery this season, Granit played as a lone 6 which left him isolated as Torriera was playing a more advanced role. Xhaka’s lack of mobility allowed teams to easily transition from defence to attack, hence why Leno was facing frequent shots on goal. Under Arsene, it was similar, where Ramsey was paired with Granit in the midfield pivot. Ramsey would look to impact the game further forward, leaving Xhaka isolated out of possession.

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Strongest combination

Its a credit to Arteta that he’s implemented a system that has allowed Granit to be effective. Pre COVID-19, a midfield pivot of Xhaka and Torreira was favoured and it works when Torreira is played correctly, and not as the furthest midfielder forward. He provides the legs, able to get around the pitch with his high energy style of play, limiting the amount of defensive work Granit is tasked to do. This is our best combination when facing the top teams. Games against the lesser teams, I’d favour a Granit and Ceballos combination since Ceballos offers more offensively than Torreira and has shown improvements in his defensive contribution and positional discipline.

If Mikel is going to play his ideal three man midfield system this season, then to give us the right balance and structure, Xhaka, Torreira and Saka would be my choice against the top teams and Xhaka, Ceballos and Saka against the lesser teams where we have more control and possession. Saka is undroppable right now and with Aubameynag on the left, he slots nicely at LCM.

Final Thoughts

Best midfield combination currently depends on the formation Arteta is looking to play in each game but Granit is undroppable in my opinion.  With Party potentially coming in along with hopefully another midfielder with creativity and possessing a goalscoring threat, suddenly the midfield looks strong. Xhaka the controller, maintains the speed of play with his line breaking ability. Partey provides the legs and power along with excellent passing range possession. Add to that a more creative midfielder gives us a dynamic trio.

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8 Responses to It is all about Granit Xhaka’s Calming Influence- Our Strongest Midfield Combination

  1. Omar July 3, 2020 at 3:41 pm #

    Excellent read, and you do bring up very good points, and yes with Arteta he’s a much better player, although i still think we can improve on him

    • Rohan Jivan July 6, 2020 at 3:41 pm #

      Thanks Omar for the kind words, really appreciate it. Perhaps in the future yes we could get a better alternative but i’m really happy to finally see a manager who is utilising him in the right way.

  2. Marble Halls July 3, 2020 at 5:01 pm #

    He’s definitely improved under Arteta – but stylistically I don’;t think he’s what we need long-term. He shouldn’t be captain again, though he’s welcome to be in the side.

    • Rohan Jivan July 6, 2020 at 3:42 pm #

      Agree has massively improved under Arteta. Hope you enjoyed the article!

  3. Las July 3, 2020 at 6:37 pm #

    Well phrased article! Thanks RJ! Recent development still not enough. Xhaka has to work (a lot) on his decesion making. Unfortunately there are other players (Mustafi, Luis) who are also prone of occasional brainfarting and this altogether usually too much to handle.
    Cross the fingers against Wolves. I hope we could do it without pushing the selfdestruction button.
    C’mon Arsenal

    • Rohan Jivan July 6, 2020 at 3:43 pm #

      Thanks Las for the kind words, really appreciate it. Fantastic win against Wolves, lets hope we can continue with this same level of performance.

  4. Tom Larry July 3, 2020 at 7:00 pm #

    Impeccable knowledge of the club and fully agree will all the points raised !

    • Rohan Jivan July 6, 2020 at 3:44 pm #

      Thanks Tom, really means a lot.

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