Granit Xhaka leaves after five seasons in North London.
Having lived in Switzerland for the past eleven years, I took Dave’s offer to prepare an introductory blog about the Swiss international, as soon as his signing was made official. In my scouting report, I likened him to two Italian giants: Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso.
He had the sharp, incisive passing of the former and the aggression and pride of the latter. At 24 years of age, he seemed ready to take the next step and become a mainstay in Arsenal midfield, as well as becoming captain, at some point. The flaws in his games were, back then, perceived as rawness due to his age more than structural issues but time eventually proved me – and many others – wrong.
During his five seasons at the Arsenal, Granit Xhaka showed great ability with the ball at his feet (foot, I should say), a big personality but little sign of improvement. He kept losing his cool under pressure, he kept collecting unnecessary red cards for losing his temper and kept overreacting when facing unexpected events.
Over the course of his career in North London, Granit Xhaka kept being very good at what he was very good at and very bad at what he was very bad at. However, he will still be missed, though: in a dressing room desperate for personality, his leadership was always appreciated and so was his dedication to the cause.
Granit Xhaka was never a good fit for the Premier League and it showed, over and over again, but he always tried as hard as possible, without any complaint.
When Unai Emery was asking him to play alone in midfield and chase opponents, he obliged; when Mikel Arteta asked him to play centre-back, he obliged; when he was tasked to replace the injured Kieran Tierney, he obliged and when he was singled out for his poor performances, he took it to the chin and moved on. Aside from his his big scene at the Emirates Stadium against Crystal Palace, he always kept his composure in a very dignified way.
I don’t think we can consider his time in London as a success but I believe he wasn’t alone in his failure: his signing, very much like those of Lucas Pérez and Shkodran Mustafi, came at a time when the Club was trying to cut the cord from Arsène Wenger and setup for itself a more complex structure, relying on data to identify the correct targets instead of leaving everything in the hands of the manager.
By leaning more on data and analysis, the Club identified Granit Xhaka as the ideal target to reinforce our midfield and partner Santi Cazorla.
I believe that the plan was to have a more progressive, technically secure defensive midfielder to replace Francis Coquelin but instead they got a deep-lying playmaker, which wouldn’t complement as well with Santi Cazorla and expose both players’ flaws instead of making the most of their abilities.
The first red flag (ignored) about this transfer was Arsène Wenger describing Granit Xhaka as a box-to-box midfielder when it was pretty obvious that he didn’t possess the athleticism to run up and down the pitch or carry the ball, then later on the Swiss was deployed as a lone holding midfielder and got brutally exposed, collecting lots of cards and drawing lots of criticism from outside the Club.
Perhaps Granit Xhaka wasn’t the player the Club wanted but eventually found his place in the team, was trusted by every manager he played under and provided some secureness on the ball and good progressive play. Unfortunately Granit Xhaka was also a very predictable player, one of a long list of unidimensional players we had at the Club in the past ten years and who, coincidentally, divided the fan base: you either loved or hated Granit Xhaka in the same way you would love or hate Mesut Özil, Theo Walcott, Francis Coquelin and many others.
Those players do one or two things extremely well and get praised for that, while being singled out for their deficiencies when their flaws are exposed, creating a divide that becomes unbearable, eventually.
There will be moments when we will be missing his control and distribution, perhaps his leadership skills, but we cannot afford to keep hanging on those few qualities he’s showing.
As football at the top level seems to have moved away from specialists in favor of polyhedral players, it is time for us to move forward and look for midfielders who can pass, tackle, run, defend and attack.
The arrival of Thomas Partey signalled the start of this new era and Granit Xhaka suddenly became a thing of the past.
A move away seems to be the best outcome for everyone, at this point in time, so thank you and good luck, Granit
Thirty-something Italian, currently in Switzerland. Gooner since mid-ninties, when the Gunners defeated my hometown team, in Copenhagen. Twelve years ago I started my own blog (www.clockenditalia.com) after after some experiences with Italian websites and football magazines. Debate, don’t insult or you’re out.