Opinion: Has Granit Xhaka defied doubters this season?
Granit Xhaka roars on his teammates at Wembley Stadium | Photo credit: GettyImages- Shaun Brooks

Opinion: Has Granit Xhaka defied doubters this season?

The Swiss international has played an important role for the Gunners this season.

TJ Wedderburn

Since joining Arsenal in the summer of 2016, Granit Xhaka has been a player who has divided opinion amongst Arsenal supporters. As well as several high profile error, Xhaka’s lack of pace has been a perceived weakness in his game.

However, Unai Emery has placed his faith in the 26-year-old, and he has played a key part in the heart of the Arsenal midfield.

Key figure

Xhaka’s main qualities lie in his range of passing and his strength on the ball. The ex-Borussia Monchengladbach man can often initiate Arsenal attacks with penetrating passes from deep in his own half. This is a skill that cannot be underestimated, with Arsenal’s defence often criticised for a lack of organisation and solidarity, Xhaka can turn defence to attack for his side in one fell swoop.

During the summer, Emery named him as one of five players he sees as a potential captain. Xhaka is a vocal presence on the pitch, and his leadership abilities are substantiated by the fact that he is his national team’s vice captain- second in command to fellow Arsenal teammate Stephan Lichsteiner.

Under Emery, Aaron Ramsey preferred in a more advanced role, meaning the Gunners’ other central midfield options are currently Matteo Guendouzi (19), Lucas Torreira (23) and Mohamed Elneny (26). With two of the three of the aforementioned midfielders under 24 years of age, Xhaka’s experience on occasion has proved invaluable.

Justifiable inclusion

In each game in which Xhaka has completed 90 minutes, Arsenal have only lost once. This stat could indeed be coincidental- but in high pressure games Xhaka has often provided a calming presence and sturdy shield for the Arsenal defence. His ability to win the ball in the air has also been a feat of his game, boasting 25 headed clearances in the Premier League.

He also poses a threat from set pieces, scoring two direct free kicks against Newcastle and Crystal Palace respectively. After just one goal in his previous league campaign, he has beaten his tally with three strikes to his name so far this term. Despite his reputation of ill discipline, since his debut season in which he picked up two red cards, Xhaka has yet to be dismissed in a league game to date.

Whether an admirer of Xhaka’s talents or otherwise, the former Basel schemer has clearly done enough to earn the trust of Emery. After another stellar display in the north London derby, Xhaka is going some way to defy his critics and will have his sights set on remaining an integral player in Arsenal’s pursuit of Champions League football.