It is interesting to note that before this season, Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka had only been given one straight red card in his career. All but one of his eight previous dismissals at other clubs were for two yellow cards. Yet both sending offs for Arsenal, against Swansea and Burnley have been for one challenge. It would be unfair then to say that Xhaka’s reckless tacking could have been entirely anticipated before he arrived at the Emirates in the summer.
He was averaging nearly nine yellow cards a season for Borussia Monchengladbach during his four year spell in the Bundesliga, but the Gunners obviously saw more to his game after reportedly keeping track of the Swiss international for a very long time. Speaking after his signing last summer, Arsene Wenger said that the 24 year old’s experience and quality were the deciding factors in the £30m transfer. Yet contrast that with what he said about his tackling at his press conference on Friday:
“I think it is down to his technique. He’s not a naturally great tackler. The way he challenges is not really convincing. Tackling is a technique that you learn at a young age. I would encourage him to stay on his feet and not to tackle.”
It’s a surprising admission that Wenger now believes that Xhaka is not a good tackler. If you look at the statistics, the description seems to be slightly unfair on the Swiss international. The midfielder has a 73.1% tackle success rate this season, winning 38 and losing 14, ranking 21st among all players in the Premier League.
The Arsenal boss’s perception of Xhaka then is an extremely worrying one for the player himself. In addition to his off-field troubles, the combative midfield player has found it challenging on the pitch during his first season in English football. With just three goals and one assist to his name, Xhaka is not contributing a great deal in the final third either, and will surely be concerned that Wenger is questioning his defensive attributes as well.
It is important to bear in mind that at 24 years of age, the Swiss international has a lot of time to improve. He no doubt has ability, which his spectacular strike against Hull City earlier in the season was a clear demonstration of, but it seems clear that his manager’s patience is already wearing thin.
Both his manager and fans were expecting more after shelling out £30m for him in the summer but I think it is important to emphasize that it is still his first season. Getting used to the pace of Premier League is not straightforward for all players. Xhaka is not N’Golo Kante in the sense he doesn’t have the pace and energy to make up for any mistakes he makes. Bad challenges can then result because you are a split second too slow, and it is likely that his anticipation will begin to improve once he adapts further to the Premier League.
Despite all the controversy surrounding the midfielder as well, he will certainly have his chances this season to prove people wrong after his four match suspension. The Gunners are struggling for players in the middle of the park with Mohamed Elneny still absent on international duty, and Santi Cazorla still out injured with an ankle problem.
Xhaka must start to make the most of the opportunities he is given though because if improvements don’t come soon, fans will feel that the £30m the club invested in him has failed to pay off. An expensive flop is always put under the microscope more heavily than a cheaper gamble. Once he returns from suspension, Xhaka needs to show he isn’t going to be a costly failure.