5th September 2016. By Edward Stratmann.
After a steady start to life in the English Premier League, which saw him come on as a substitute to make his debut against Liverpool and put in a solid shift vs Leicester City, Granit Xhaka emphatically announced himself in Arsenal's 3-1 win over Watford.
Arsenal's €30 million signing from Borussia MÃ¶nchengladbach was instrumental throughout his team's first win of the season. His contribution on both sides of the ball was immense, in a match where the former Gladbach captain showed why he's precisely what Arsenal have been missing in recent years.
The sheer fight and physically imposing nature of the Swiss international really helped set the tone for his teammates to follow. To start with, his dogged yet intelligent defensive formed a brilliant foundation. Never afraid to snap into his tackles and ruffle opponents' feathers, Xhaka made plenty of bone crunching interventions to force turnovers too. Moreover, his strength in aerial confrontations, plus the way he covered his fullbacks and was always willing to sacrifice himself to help a colleague also served as inspirational aspects of his game.
By the numbers, his two won aerial duels, five successful tackles, two interceptions and four clearances gave a glowing reflection on his strong stopping exertions that undoubtedly would've had a positive affect on his team's approach.
While the tough enforcer undisputedly thrives in the combative aspect of the sport, his masterful passing ability ensured he was equally effective in attack too.
Blessed with a wand of a left foot, a tremendous range of passing and terrific vision, Xhaka's sizzling, 40-50 yard diagonals to switch play added another dimension to his side's offensive forays. Being able to switch the ball with such speed and precision was vital, for it allowed Arsenal's wingers to receive the ball and isolate their opponent in a 1v1 situation, giving them the best chance to wreak havoc without the potential of being double or triple teamed.
In addition, the way he perfectly weighted his passes, both short and long, combined with his clarity in his decision making, saw his importance amplified and made life much a simpler one for the ball recipients.
By distributing the ball with such purpose and incision, the 23-year-old added a palpable sense of verve and thrust to the Gunners passing game, which can, at times, be a little slow and pedestrian. "He has a good mix of short and long balls," explained his manager, Arsene Wenger.
"In midfield, sometimes for us it's good to stretch defences. We have a game that's based on short passes -- sometimes turning players and hitting a longer ball helps us to find some oxygen and space.
"He has a good engine, he has a good stature, he's good in the air. He has good balance in his game."
The French tactician then went onto speak glowingly about his leadership qualities, noting: "He is 24 and has already played abroad: It's more reassuring when a player has played abroad somewhere. He was captain of Monchengladbach, he has leadership qualities."
Although Xhaka's start to life at the Emirates has indeed been encouraging, it was fascinating to hear him reveal how it's taken some time for him to fully adapt. "I have to admit that in the first few days there was an undeniable nervousness," he recently said.
"The work ethic and the ambition are impressive. You can't afford to rest on your laurels at all or you'll instantly be on the bench. Every training session, every sprint, every exercise must be done to the best your ability."
With Arsenal facing a challenging encounter against Claude Puel's Southampton outfit up next, you can guarantee their hard-nosed destroyer will be doing all he can to help his team get over the line. His insatiable appetite for the contest and never say die attitude will always see to it.
In Xhaka, Arsenal finally have that authoritative, commanding presence in the centre of the park they've sorely missed for years.
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Granit Xhaka Arsenal's Commanding Midfielder
5th September 2016. By Edward Stratmann.