Good or Bad?
Granit Xhaka has been a conundrum for Arsenal fans since his arrival from Borussia Monchengladbach. The Swiss CM was a reckless yet talented midfielder, known for his decisive passing. He came in as a young man with potential, and has become a confusing player in the Arsenal midfield.
On one hand, he is reckless, untrustworthy and inconsistent, yet he does show flashes of genuine quality. Moreover, he is one of the few naturally defensive players in the Arsenal midfield, alongside Mohammed Elneny.
Indeed, he has made 1.7 tackles per game this season, the highest of any midfielder or attacker, and fifth highest in the squad. This demonstrates not only his defensive mindset going into every game, but also his willingness to get stuck in.
What many Arsenal fans are unsure of, however, is how well placed this willingness is. He has made 1.6 fouls per game this season, the highest of any Arsenal player. He gets his tackles in, but there is no certainty that those will be legal.
Considering that Arsenal have been weak from set pieces this season, losing over 50% of their aerial duels this season as a team, having a player regularly giving away free-kicks can be risky, particularly if those free-kicks are in dangerous situations.
A New Position
It is possible that Xhaka would experience more love from fans if he was given the same freedom as more attacking players, such as Aaron Ramsey. Certainly still suited to the centre of the park due to his stature, Xhaka could be an effective box-to-box midfielder, rather than a CDM.
He has made 4 assists this season, the third-highest in the squad. From such a deep position, and competing with the likes of Ramsey, Sanchez and Ozil, Xhaka has done remarkably well to perform his attacking duties so successfully.
Changing the Tempo
Xhaka’s style of play is more comparable to a CDM such as Michael Carrick, rather than N’Golo Kante, and this may be why fans are still unsure. He is by far and away the highest passer of the ball, averaging 82.7 passes per game, 12 more than Mustafi in second.
He likes to keep the play moving by picking his passes and maintaining possession. Xhaka would most likely excel alongside a tough, durable CDM. But that would take yet another player from the Arsenal midfield, a position already highly competed for.
Overall, it is unfair to single out Xhaka for criticism. He is being asked to do a job that he is not used to doing. He has gotten significantly better at it over the past 18 months, and is still young enough to adapt fully.
Yes he still needs to up his consistency levels, and a regular CDM may be a better fit alongside Ramsey/Wilshere, but he has a lot to offer, and it would seem that he deserves much better treatment from the Arsenal fans.