Granit Xhaka is once again headlining Arsenal transfer rumours. The Switzerland international is reportedly a target for Jose Mourinho, and the Portuguese manager is looking to bring the midfielder to Rome. It’s not the first time the midfielder has been linked with a move away from the club. Xhaka was close to leaving the club last season before Mikel Arteta convinced him to stay at the club.
It’s been five years since Granit Xhaka arrived from Borussia Monchengladbach. The Swiss international was the Gunners’ alternative to N’Golo Kante. He was Arsenal’s and Wenger’s answer to providing grit and stability to a frail Arsenal midfield.
While the club has undergone massive changes, the Arsenal midfield has gone from frail to brittle. The past five years have seen players like Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere, Francis Coquelin and Aaron Ramsey leave the Arsenal midfield. Their replacements, Torreira and Guendozi, have failed to adjust to life in the Premier League. Another midfield signing, Thomas Partey, has looked good but has struggled with injuries.
All along, Granit Xhaka has played in this revolving midfield with little success. The Swiss international has sometimes been on the wrong end of fans’ anger and has gone under-appreciated. As the Roma rumours inch closer, it’s time to take a closer look into why Granit Xhaka and Arsenal need a new beginning.
Time for Arsenal to Sell Granit Xhaka
Granit Xhaka and the Fans
The relationship between Granit Xhaka and Arsenal fans has been a bit complicated. The Swiss midfielder arrived from Borussia Monchengladbach in the hope of providing grit and reliability to a shaky midfield. He has been what Arsenal needed, but not on a day-to-day basis.
It has been these inconsistent performances that have led Xhaka into the eye of the storm. In a single game, the midfielder may look like one of the best in the league and, a few minutes later, a player playing out of his league. Over the years, his erratic decision-making and ill-discipline has cost the Gunners on more than one occasion.
The situation reached a boiling point back in 2019. Abuse from fans led Granit Xhaka to uncharacteristically react to jeers after coming off during a match against Crystal Palace. The situation almost got out of hand, and the midfielder was close to moving out of the club. It took newly appointed manager Mikel Arteta to convince the midfielder to stay.
Despite the assurances, Xhaka always had that one big mistake waiting to happen. Xhaka’s live by the sword, die by the sword attitude has been one of his major criticisms. But this year saw an entirely different Granit Xhaka. After a howler against Burnley last December, the midfielder has looked composed and has been performing consistently.
Despite the change in his attitude and improved composure, not many Arsenal fans want Xhaka to stay at the Emirates. Their reactions on social media were not of rejoice nor sadness, but rather, a feeling of content. It feels more like the end of a chapter and the need for a new, better one. He is part of a failed project at Arsenal.
Thomas Partey: The Readymade Replacement
Xhaka has been inconsistent, erratic and volatile, but provided stability to the team. For the most part, the midfielder ensured a level of control in midfield for the Gunners. His absence has always resulted in Arsenal struggling in the middle of the park.
The midfielder’s lack of pace and dynamism has always been an area of concern. Xhaka’s slow ball progression has also drawn criticism from the fans. At 28, Xhaka is not getting any younger and will only get slower as the years progress.
Finding a replacement is always a tedious task, but Arsenal already have a replacement in their squad – Thomas Partey. The Ghanian is every bit better than his counterpart except for the injury record and pass completion. A closer look at his 2019/20 season with Atletico Madrid shows how good Partey can be.
Thomas Partey averaged better with and without the ball compared to Granit Xhaka. According to fbref.com, the Ghanian has had better xG and xA than the Swiss international in the last couple of seasons. On the defensive side, Partey had similar stats to Xhaka this season despite playing ten games less than the Swiss international. The Ghanian posted similar numbers in tackles and tackle success rate in the midfield and defensive third. He also had more blocks and interceptions than the Swiss this season.
Partey has had an immense effect on and off the ball. He posted better numbers in dribbles completed and dribble success rate. The stats, in effect, show the Ghanian has a better overall build-up and progression with the ball than Xhaka.
On the tactical side, too, Partey has a distinct advantage over Xhaka. The dynamism of the Ghanian makes him perfect for the 4-3-3 formation, which Arteta tends to employ. Deploying Partey also helps the Gunners in finding another midfielder with a creative profile. Partey is more than a replacement for Xhaka, the Ghanian, in fact, has shown himself as an upgrade to the Swiss international.
The Arsenal Rebuild
It’s pretty clear that Mikel Arteta intends to have a complete revamp of the Arsenal squad. The Spaniard has cleared a lot of deadwood and has injected the team with several pieces of young blood. A closer look at Arsenal reveals the Spaniard’s intention to improve the Gunners with the foundation of young stars like Gabriel, Saka, Smith Rowe, Martinelli, Tierney and Nicolas Pepe. He cleared players like Saed Kolasniac, Shkodran Mustafi and Mesut Ozil and promoted several academy graduates into the first squad.
For a complete rebuild to take place, Arteta will need players who can implement his project. The signings and the promotion of youth indicate the Spaniard’s choice for a mobile, dynamic unit rather than a slow and cautious one. And Granit Xhaka doesn’t fit into that mould.
Granit Xhaka is one of the few remaining first-team regulars that played under Arsene Wenger to have featured regularly under Arteta. The Swiss international’s seniority and influence inside the dressing room had made him an indispensable part of the Arsenal team. But the Gunners have not really improved since his arrival. Due to his involvement in the squad over the years, Xhaka is partly responsible for the Arsenal debacle.
Rebuilding a squad without changing its spine is more likely to cause the same issues. Xhaka was the spine of the midfield under Wenger and later Unai Emery. It’s fitting to replace the midfielder rather than trying to include him in the squad. With just two more seasons remaining on Xhaka’s contract, a transfer this season could be the only way to get the maximum value for the midfielder.
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