It wasn’t long ago that Granit Xhaka was stripped of the Arsenal captaincy after a show of frustration towards supporters on the pitch. There was a period where he was out of the team and linked with a move away. On Sunday, he wore the armband again against Brentford and led the Gunners to a dominant display. The Swiss international is no longer the club captain, with Martin Odegaard taking that responsibility, but he was missing at the weekend. Mikel Arteta has trusted Xhaka as one of the members of the leadership group and he has repaid that faith by starting the season in great form.
Xhaka has started all seven Premier League matches in a freer midfield role. Thomas Partey is responsible for protecting the back four, which means his midfield partner has more attacking license. Since arriving in England, the 29-year-old hasn’t been known for his attacking quality. This season, he is showing that he can deliver in the final third, with one goal and three assists. He has only had more goal involvements in two of his six full campaigns in the Premier League. Considering we are only weeks into the season, Xhaka will be confident that he can beat his best return of eight goal involvements that came in the 2017/18 season.
On Saturday, it was an assured performance from Xhaka, as he made three key passes. One of these was his cross into Gabriel Jesus for the second goal. It was an excellent weight of delivery and showed the value that he can offer in the final third. In fact, at times, he is given extra room and time as the opposition are pre-occupied with the other attackers. That makes him even more dangerous, as he does can influence matches.
In addition to his creativity, Xhaka was tidy in possession with a pass completion of 89%. Interestingly, he didn’t attempt a single tackle, which underlines his new role in the team. Despite this, he still managed to get a yellow card for charging down a goal kick from David Raya, showing that he still does pick up silly cautions. That said, Arteta will be pleased that his midfielder has only received two yellow cards in the first seven matches.
One of Xhaka’s big strengths is his ability to progress the ball. This season, he has played 33 progressive passes, at an average of 4.7 per ninety minutes. Only Martin Odegaard and Ben White have played more in the Arsenal team.
Aside from his new found attacking strength and ability to progress the ball, Xhaka’s value is his availability. He is one of just three outfield players to play in every minute of the Premier League so far. After a dodgy start, he is fully trusted by his manager and that trust has likely led to his consistency on the pitch.
There have been plenty of notable individual performances from Arsenal’s start to the season. However, Xhaka’s is worth further comment, as he hasn’t always convinced at the Emirates Stadium. He is now performing to a level that is worthy of a top four side, potentially even an outside title challenger. The challenge will be to display this consistency over a full campaign. Arteta will believe that he can do just that.