Even though it is only March, transfer rumours and reports are already swirling. One of the biggest ones so far is 23-year-old Swiss international Granit Xhaka to Arsenal. According to reports, the Borussia Monchengladbach central midfielder is set to sign for the Gunners in a whopping £33m move this summer.
The question is, why does Arsene Wenger want him so much, and what will Xhaka bring to the team?
Since the departure of Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal have lacked a deep-lying midfield playmaker. Jack Wilshere has filled the role on occasions, but he is too injury prone to consistently be in the team and lay down his marker. Aaron Ramsey is more of a box-to-box midfielder and leaves the defence too open when he plays in the pivot. Mohamed Elneny, another younger player, is fitting into the role slowly, but still needs time to adjust to the physicality of the Premier League. Santi Cazorla on the other hand, is the player who has taken to the role best, but he is beginning to age and Arsenal need to start considering bringing in his replacement. Enter Xhaka.
The players mentioned are those that if brought in, Xhaka would be competing with for a place in the team with. As mentioned before, each of those players has a significant reason that they are unable to stake the deep lying playmaker role as their own. Xhaka would be arguably the perfect replacement for Cazorla, and possess all of the qualities to be a world class playmaker.
Xhaka has passing ability similar to Cazorla and Elneny. The difference is that he makes more incisive passes from deep unlike Elneny. The Swiss stars passes cut through defences and this could be a much-needed asset to this Arsenal team. It would take significant pressure off Mesut Ozil, who right now, is perhaps the only creative source in the team. With someone from behind him to play incisive and probing passes, the German would be free to get into good pockets of space, which he excels in.
Considering that Xhaka is less of a box-to-box midfielder, if selected in the team next to Francis Coquelin, he would provide great defensive and team stability, as opposed to Ramsey. Often times this season, the Welshman’s forward runs from midfield have left the back four exposed. That is not part of Xhaka’s game. He would more than likely spend most of his time just ahead of Coquelin when his teammates are on the ball; both providing cover for the defence as well as an option for the attacking four. Finally, if one thing is absolutely clear about the Swiss star, it is that he is not gun-shy. He has a sweet left foot and is not afraid to take long shots. This is something Arsenal have been missing for years, on many occasions while passing around the box an opportunity opens up to shoot, but players continue to so famously “try and walk it in”. Xhaka’s ability to let fly from distance will not only keep opposing keepers on their toes but it will force defensive midfielders and centre backs to step out to him, leaving room for the attackers to run in behind.
Xhaka combines many of the best qualities Arsenal’s current midfielders possess, all into one. He contains all of the traits that a world class playmaker should have. It is clear that he would have to compete mainly in a like-for-like role with Cazorla for game time, and would become amongst the club’s first choices for the midfield two.