Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Granit Xhaka would appear to be a man in demand this summer. The midfielder has already been linked with Liverpool and Manchester City, but over the past week it is Arsenal who have emerged as the strongest contenders for his signature. The Gunners have been heavily linked and even rumoured to be prepared to pay around €45m for the Swiss international.
He first emerged at FC Basel, before an €8.5m move to Mönchengladbach where he became a fixture in the side under Lucien Favre. His performances last season caught the eye as the Foals finished an impressive third in the Bundesliga. This year, following the departure of Favre, Xhaka has continued to flourish under new manager Andre Schubert, despite their results not matching up to the previous campaign.
Xhaka has had disciplinary issues though, racking up 6 yellow cards and 3 reds in just 22 Bundesliga games this season. His combative style means he commits a lot of fouls, but in an interview last month with German magazine Sport Bild, Xhaka complained that he was deliberately provoked by some opponents: “I will not name names, but I know that there are coaches in the Bundesliga who have said in the team meeting: Provoke Xhaka, who has snapped sometimes from this. If that happens, I think that’s sad. This has, in my view nothing to do with football” He continued: “I can laugh over insults, that goes with it (the game), but when someone steps on your foot ten times, puts a boot in again and again, provokes you for 90 minutes – then it is hard to stay calm”
He also admitted “England is my dream, which I do not hide.” His physical nature may be less of an issue in the Premier League; though his temper is something he needs to learn to curb, but don’t be misled into thinking that’s all he is about. A leader of men, he has assumed the captain’s armband at Mönchengladbach this campaign and reads the play well, showing an impressive ability to intercept. His technical ability and passing range should be no surprise for Arsene Wenger to be so keen on him.
He does have a €25m escape clause, but that does not come into effect until next year; so the higher reported fee is unsurprising, given the value of Xhaka’s stock and the competition there could be for his signature. There was a time when that may have been an issue for the Gunners, but in recent years Wenger has shown a willingness to spend more and will likely be under pressure this summer to make the signings he failed to last year. Xhaka may be a bit pricey, but could ultimately represent good value, given his quality and the fact he is only 23 years old.
Perhaps more important to Arsenal fans will be that he is the type of player the Arsenal midfield has been crying out for. His imposing physical style and stature has been a key missing ingredient for years. Francis Coquelin has helped narrow that gap and has done well, but does have limitations, lacks experience and physically cannot be the sole protector for every game. He also cannot offer the quality and range of passing that Xhaka does. Signing Granit Xhaka would not necessarily mean the end of Francis Coquelin, it could help him develop as a player with less personal responsibility. Allowing him to be used more sparingly and also provide more viable opportunities to rotate the central midfield. They could also be a formative combination for Arsenal, giving them much needed steel in certain games, whilst still benefit from the play-making ability of Xhaka and his natural leadership qualities.
Another beneficiary in this could be Santi Cazorla, his transition from attacking midfield into the central area has been extremely successful and if Wenger allows himself to be more tactically flexible and move between a two and three man central midfield, depending on opponent, Cazorla could have greater freedom to dictate the play and control games. A Cazorla-Xhaka midfield partnership offers tremendous ball playing potential, mixed with Xhaka’s ability to enforce. Aaron Ramsey may be considered the odd one out, but he looks more comfortable with less defensive responsibility and more freedom to roam and support attacks with his energy.
In essence, Granit Xhaka would not only offer Arsenal something they have been missing, but also add quality, depth and greater ability to rotate in a key area of the pitch if Arsenal are to maintain a consistent push for trophies in the future. Expensive though the price may seem, he could be the midfield general not seen at the Emirates since the departure of Patrick Vieira and a key component for future success.