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Granit Xhaka beginning to look real deal for Arsenal

Monday 14th August 2017
Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka impressed as the Gunners twice came from behind to beat Leicester City in Friday's crazy Premier League opener.

The Swiss international matched last season's assist total (2) in one game and looks to be picking up where he left off in 2016/17's final months. He also grabbed a helper in Arsenal's Community Shield win over Chelsea.

Manager Arsene Wenger's tactical switch to a 3-4-2-1 has brought the best from Xhaka. He continued to thrive when the boss changed formations after Leicester took the lead. The second-year man's season could be a success from a personal note.

Xhaka proves he should be given more creative freedom

Upon his arrival, initial feelings were the 24-year-old had been signed to provide the combative qualities Arsenal have lacked in recent seasons. Xhaka was lined up alongside playmaker Santi Cazorla, in a holding midfield role, Francis Coquelin being deemed too defensive as his partner. Against Leicester, Xhaka proved he can provide all the creativity Arsenal need.

With Mohamed Elneny riding shotgun, Xhaka played with greater freedom in the midfield and was highly effective in the final third. Only Mesut Ozil created more chances (6-5) than the deep-lying playmaker. No player beat Xhaka's two assists on the night. He made 99 passes against the Foxes, completing 82%. He was an outstanding 80% with his long passes. Xhaka was everywhere on the pitch. Only Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain delivered more crosses (7-6). After such a performance, Wenger ought to consider allowing him continued freedom.
Elneny proved able cover, making four tackles to Xhaka's one, and ensured Arsenal retained possession by completing 90% of his passes.

Contributing more in the final third

The midfielder made 35 chances in his 34 league appearances for the Gunners last campaign. He already has five from this season's opener. With players such as Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny to provide steel in the engine room, Xhaka could reprise his role against Leicester for the remaining 37 matches.

Role change product of Cazorla/Wilshere injuries

Xhaka's strength certainly lies in his passing but it wasn't initially obvious what he could do in the final third. The Swiss midfielder was always known for turning defence into attack with accurate diagonal passes from distance. Now he's proven he can split defences and play intricate football around the opposition's penalty area.

In addition to Mesut Ozil, Arsenal have had Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere to operate as deep-lying playmakers. Cazorla is sidelined after yet another ankle surgery. Wilshere has practised with the first team after returning from his loan to Bournemouth but has been dropped to the U23 side to develop his match fitness. The former Basel and Borussia Mönchengladbach player has stepped up in their absence, turning past critics into fans.

Many raised eyebrows at the Gunners paying £30m for his signature last summer. Now Granit Xhaka looks the real deal.
Crippy Cooke

Crippy is a long-suffering Aston Villa supporter and weekly football accumulator enthusiast.

Stealing a living, the balding 27-year-old boasts a wealth of writing experience - Telegraph, Independent, Huffington Post, Zoo Magazine, Daily Mail, ITV Football, MSN Sport, Yahoo Sport, London 24 and Bleacher Report.

Total articles: 319

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