Granit Xhaka is a perfect signing for Arsenal and manager Arsene Wenger. It’s no wonder that Gunners supporters following Switzerland at Euro 2016 have already stood up and taken notice of the 23-year-old’s domineering performances in midfield, with his 276 successful passes narrowly behind Germany’s Toni Kroos (319) at the tournament so far.
And that’s no mean feat when you consider that Kroos, a world champion and reigning club European champion, is part of a team of players who could fit into any starting XI in world football. Xhaka was the pinnacle of everything good about Switzerland during their stalemate against France and he distributed the ball with such ease to emphasise team-mate Johan Djourou’s opinion that he possesses similar midfield qualities to Italy legend Andrea Pirlo.
“He’s a great ball player and a ball winner so I think in the midfield he could help a lot”, said Djourou. “He’s got the ability to play very long balls and precise balls. He reminds me a bit of Andrea Pirlo, the way he plays.”
The former Borussia Monchengladbach midfield had his shirt ripped twice against France and drew plaudits from pundits and players for his combative nature and impressive pass distribution rate. Indeed, Xhaka’s 89% passing accuracy rate is even more astonishing when you consider he makes an average of just 105 passes per game.
Xhaka’s free role in the Switzerland midfield gives him the freedom to exploit space in the final third with his passing and direct running but it is worth noting that a tendency to work the ball back onto his left foot against France slowed play down at times.
In terms of what he will bring to Arsenal, the list is almost endless. Captain of a top Bundesliga side at just 23, Xhaka’s leadership qualities seduced Arsene Wenger when he made his final decision to sign the ex-Basel man. That’s not forgetting his 85 per cent pass completion percentage from last season – the second best in Monchengladbach’s team while added to his work ethic and aggressive nature on the pitch, you can be sure that Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez are likely to thrive in the same side as their new team-mate.
Ozil’s record-breaking 19 assists last season could have been many more if Arsenal had a clinical striker up front, and while the club make inroads on a deal to bring in that ideal player following the collapse of Jamie Vardy’s move to north London, the fans can take some comfort in knowing that Xhaka will help share the burden of defensive responsbility and playing those through the eye of the needle passes when required.
The departures of Tomas Rosicky, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini has left a gap in Arsenal’s midfield which will almost certainly be filled by Xhaka. While he faces competition from Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny for a starting spot, it’s likely that he will have no trouble working his way into the XI after a solid Euro 2016 tournament where he has picked up two man of the match awards in three games.
For now all of Xhaka’s focus will be on his country. The midfielder has been hugely influential in Switzerland’s progression to the knockout stages and will be confident of securing another surprise result when they face Poland in St Etienne on Saturday.