Granit Xhaka – Surplus to Requirements?

The term ‘luxury player’ is one that was coined only recently, but only swims in the smallest of circles. It isn’t a phrase that is used across footballing circles, it is primarily implemented towards Arsenal.

It is used to describe a member of the squad that serves no purpose regarding the team, and their skills are outside the desired set that is utilised in the eleven. To put it simply, the team can operate without them.

Granit Xhaka is our new luxury player.

The phrase is derogatory, and unfairly brings to mind visions of Mesut Ozil, after the German fought off the tag for the better part of three seasons. Now, we’re all privy to the fact that Ozil is crucial to the hopes of our team on the pitch, and his recent decision to extend his stay at London Colney was met with joy amongst us all.

Granit Xhaka is still in the stage where he must fend off the slings and arrows delivered by experts, pundits and every rent-a-mouth the media can get their hands on.

We all have a tendency to cultivate scapegoats at Arsenal, but Xhaka is copping it fiercely from all corners. This article is being written on the back of two consecutive 3-0 defeats at the hands of champions-elect Manchester City, and Xhaka played in both.

The Swiss star was pitted against Ilkay Gundogan on both occasions. Xhaka’s partner was Aaron Ramsey, which demands a defensively-minded performance. Whatever your opinion on the Welshman, we can all agree that his strongest suit is in attack.

That meant Xhaka was mano-el-mano versus Gundogan. Both players are quite similar – excellent passers of the ball, good vision and plenty of miles in the tank. Yet Gundogan bossed the centre of the park, and Xhaka was left grasping at shadows.

Why?

Gundogan obviously benefited from being in the ascendancy as part of the dominant City team, but should he have given Xhaka the runaround? Not really, but the German midfielder has more of a defensive bent to his game, and as such, knew when he could rove forward.

Xhaka, as cultured as he may be, is anything but what we’re trying to mould him into.

Xhaka is a deep-lying playmaker. Yes, that does sound a tad pretentious, but it’s true. Think of Jack Wilshere in his last England stint. That role is perfect for Xhaka, as long as you don’t require him to track runners.

Keeping an eye on the attack of the opposing team is not Xhaka’s forte – and since he joined, it has been the same story. This weakness in his game has showed no sign of abating, and it gives our midfield an imbalance that astute managers can maximise.

Xhaka is the epitome of a luxury player. He can link play with the swipe of one boot, but a modern midfielder must perform all roles adequately, unless given license to run amok, a la Pogba.

A central midfield partnership needs one to sit back and one to attack. If the team is under the cosh a little, then both can bed into the trenches.

The problem with having the Swiss star in the side, is that whenever defending is needed, then we’re at a disadvantage. It isn’t Xhaka’s fault to a degree. His strengths lie elsewhere. We aren’t privy to what training he has had on the role, and if we’ve attempted to coach the defensive arts into his game. Xhaka hasn’t improved this side of the game since he joined though.

His passing stats are amongst the best in the league, but it has been pointed out time and again by pundits that his consistent failure to see to his defensive duties costs our team time and again. That is partly his blame and also Wenger’s.

This isn’t an attack on Xhaka, nor is it saying our woes are down to him alone. It is merely highlighting what we can all see – Xhaka doesn’t fit our midfield in the way we need him to – as a defensive midfielder.

We haven’t replaced Gilberto since he left. We’ve been chasing the elusive lynchpin in our midfield for quite some time. Xhaka is not the player we need right now.

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