Arsenal FC

It's now officially impossible to deny Granit Xhaka's importance to Arsenal

By Harry Symeou
Feb 4, 2021, 2:30 PM GMT
Xhaka is a key man for Arteta
Xhaka is a key man for Arteta | Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images
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Love him or loathe him, it's impossible to deny that of late, Granit Xhaka has been playing his best football of his career in an Arsenal shirt.

Since arriving from Borussia Monchengladbach in the summer of 2016, in a deal worth in excess of £40m, the Swiss international has often divided opinion among the Gunners faithful.

His career in the famous red and white looked to be over back in October 2019 when after weeks of online abuse and booing from his own supporters, when substituted, the 28-year-old snapped and gestured angrily at the Emirates Stadium crowd while walking off of the pitch.

Stripped of the captaincy, Xhaka became public enemy number one among groups of the fans and seemed headed for Hertha Berlin. Following the sacking of Unai Emery, Mikel Arteta came in and was able to convince the midfielder to stay put and ever since, the player's level of performance has improved significantly.

The rejuvenated Xhaka has benefitted from playing in a more balanced side which allows him to play to his strengths and prevents arguably his biggest flaw, a lack of athleticism, being exposed.

Despite currently sitting in 10th position, only their north London rivals boast a better defensive record in the division - further supporting the point Arsenal have tightened up in that area. However, Xhaka is not just a beneficiary of the team's improvement defensively, he's been a large contributor to it too.

Granit Xhaka stormed off the pitch and down the tunnel after being substituted against Crystal Palace back in October 2019
Granit Xhaka stormed off the pitch and down the tunnel after being substituted against Crystal Palace back in October 2019 | Alex Morton/Getty Images

The player's tactical awareness and ability to slip into the defensive line when his full-back bombs forward has been invaluable in defending against transitions. The way he is comfortable in receiving the ball facing his own goal has been key as Arteta continues to insist on his side playing out from the back and it's become abundantly clear he is one of the few natural leaders in the current squad.

His pass completion rate in the Premier League this season stands at an impressive 90% and with the recent addition of an advanced midfielder ahead of him, he has been able to get his head up and progress the ball forward far more often.

Flashes of the petulance that once plagued him can still be found from time to time, his sending off against Burnley back in December being the latest example. However, in Thomas Partey (when he's fit) Arteta has found the Swiss his perfect partner.

Arsenal added Thomas Partey to their midfield last summer for £45m
Arsenal added Thomas Partey to their midfield last summer for £45m | Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The pair bring both a physical presence and a positional discipline to Arsenal's midfield that has been key to their recent upturn in form. To further evidence his importance, the Gunners have won just one of the four Premier League fixtures in which he didn't feature.

Granit Xhaka is a player not without faults but whatever your view on him previously, he's clearly earned the trust of his manager and has certainly repaid the faith shown in him by turning in some solid displays.

When fit, he's one of the first names on the team sheet, whether you love him or loathe him, it's impossible to deny his importance to this current Arsenal side and the progress the team have made recently.

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