To say that Granit Xhaka is a divisive figure amongst Arsenal fans is an understatement. The midfielder joined the Gunners in May 2016 from Borussia Monchengladbach for a fee in the region of £35million, which would give you plenty of cash to play with then using your betfred bingo promo code, and since his arrival at the Emirates Stadium the 26-year-old has been a near ever-present in the Arsenal starting XI. Yet, at times, the 66-cap Switzerland international has failed to convince that he has what it takes to dominate the centre of the park for a club of Arsenal’s stature.
The positive aspects of Xhaka’s game – his vision, technique and excellent range of passing – have never been in doubt. However, frequent lapses in defensive concentration and a propensity for losing possession of the ball in dangerous areas have caused many to condemn him as something of a liability within this Arsenal team.
That being said, many of Xhaka’s struggles at the club can be attributed, in part, to his lack of a regular and complementary midfield partner. Throughout his time in North London, Xhaka has lined up alongside Francis Coquelin, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey, amongst others. For various reasons, none of these have proved to be the ideal partner for the Swiss.
In Lucas Torreira, though, Unai Emery may well have identified the perfect man to start beside Xhaka in the Gunners’ engine room. The Uruguayan’s defensive diligence, tenacity and mobility allow him to offset some of the weaknesses in Xhaka’s game, whilst also freeing up his partner to focus upon his distribution of the ball.
It has taken a while for Emery to line up Torreira and Xhaka from the start in the Premier League, and against Watford at the weekend the pair were included in the starting XI for just the second time. Already, though, there is clear evidence that this partnership could flourish for the Gunners.
Enabled by the presence of the battling 22-year-old, Xhaka delivered an imperious midfield display against Javi Gracia’s in-form Hornets. Playing his usual role as the fulcrum of the Arsenal side, Xhaka saw plenty of the ball – registering 119 touches and successfully completing 92 passes. In both departments, Xhaka was the most productive player on the pitch.
On the ball, the Swiss midfielder acts as a deep-lying playmaker for this Arsenal team and is crucial to their attacking build up play. He played two key passes against Watford – more than any other man in red and white. He also racked up another team-high in terms of long balls, as he completed seven long-range passes from ten attempted.
As probing and creative as Xhaka was in his passing, he was also tidy and accurate. His pass completion rating of 87% is very respectable considering how frequently he was in possession. The fact that he was only dispossessed the once and performed just a single unsuccessful touch across the entire course of the match illuminates just how vital Xhaka was to establishing Arsenal’s control of the midfield area.
With Torreira alongside Xhaka, Arsenal were far less susceptible to the Swiss player being caught out defensively. When he was called upon to perform his defensive dues against Watford though, the much-maligned Xhaka rose to the occasion and racked up a total tally of two tackles and three clearances, making him one of Emery’s most defensively effective individuals on the day.
He may not be a universal favourite at the Emirates Stadium, but Xhaka finally looks to have been handed an ideal midfield partner at Arsenal. This state of affairs ought to allow him to blossom at the club and silence his doubters. His eye-catching performance against Watford was a good start.