Granit Xhaka will not be so easy to replace at Arsenal

Replacing Granit Xhaka? Good luck With That. by AI

Football is both an art and a science. Not everything is clear about what goes on on a pitch. What most fans are in touch with is the artistic part of it, the emotions and raw beauty of it. The science part is what coaches cook behind the scenes and try to present as art on the pitch. But don’t be fooled: football is more science than it is art. It has rules, principles, trusims, geometry, physics and psychology involved. And sometimes, there is a gray area where something that is utterly scientific about football does not come across as art.


Take Georgino Wjnaldum for example. Many Liverpool fans are not especially in love with him. They look at him play and see an uninspirational player who just stands, defends and passes the ball 5 meters. Yet, this seemingly indistinct midfielder scored the goal that put them in the Champions League under Jurgen Klopp for the first time. This same midfielder has played the most minutes for Jurgen Klopp among all the Liverpool outfielders. And this midfielder has played extremely critical roles in the biggest performances of the Klopp era. And when Wjnaldum doesn’t play (which almost never happens as he is always available and starting), the overall magic feels a little less artistic.


Wjnaldum is simply a high-end attacking midfielder who has adapted his qualities to play an utterly selfless role in the machine that is Klopp’s Liverpool. He is the gengenpressing, the reason Liverpool can win, keep and pass the ball even against teams like Manchester City. He is why they don’t concede so much even though they throw everyone forward. His role is not beautiful to watch to the uninitiated eye but it remains important nonetheless.


Granit Xhaka is a player that is extremely frustrating for Arsenal fans. He has a mistake or two in him that leads to a goal every season. He doesn’t score much on his own except for one or two free kicks in big games or the very occasional banger. He is not mobile enough for a generation of fans that have seen Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas, Tomas Rosiscky, Santi Cazorla and even Andre Arshavin do the business on the pitch. He is not skillful, either—Matteo Guendouzi is a better dribbler. So what exactly does he bring to the damn table?


Picture Andrea Pirlo in his 30s. By then, Pirlo was a weak, immobile midfielder who didn’t venture forward much and couldn’t do much defensively, either. But he was still able to significantly contribute to the near-iconic 2015 squad of Juventus. How? By playing the same game as Granit Xhaka.


Despite complaints to the contrary, Granit Xhaka is widely recognized as one of the most progressive passers in Europe. Fans don’t see this because they only count through balls as progressive. Everything else is ‘sideways’. However, it is precisely those ‘sideways’ passes that push your team up the pitch and open up the game for you. Have you ever seen Jorginho make an incisive through ball? Why is he still so highly regarded as a playmaker, then?


Fans don’t realize that most teams attack with width on both sides. However, when you move the ball from the back on one side and still try to play through that same side, your width-play becomes extremely predictable and ineffective. What makes width work is working the ball quickly from one side to another. The faster you can move the ball from left to right, the better. And one of the best midfielders for that important job is Granit Xhaka.


Also, it sounds like a basic thing but one of the most important and attractive things a midfielder can do is to never lose the ball. When a midfielder, especially a deeply positioned one, loses the ball, his team is usually put at a great disadvantage. It is not just a negative impact quality. It also has a positive impact, too. Imagine you are playing the biggest game of your life against Manchester City and you have a midfielder who simply never loses the ball—that is a great advantage. That is what makes some seemingly average midfielders exceptional. Players like Veratti, Wjnaldum, etc almost never lose the ball. It doesn’t matter what they are up against. Granit Xhaka is also among the rest of the best in this category, along with the likes of Jorginho. They can lose the ball once in a while but it’s not common for them.


If you have a midfielder who doesn’t lose the ball and who also is one of the best progressive passers in the game, then you almost have a cheat code. You have someone who you can always give the ball to all the time and always expect something positive (or at worst, neutral). That is also Granit Xhaka. For 95% of most games, Xhaka almost never loses the ball and that is a great advantage for a playmaker to have.


When this kind of a player is not in your team, then you will notice the difference and the need. Every Arsenal fan can agree that even with the likes of Partey, Ozil and Ramsey playing, Granit Xhaka is always an obvious miss when he is not there.


The best use for the kind of player we have in Xhaka is to partner him with someone who covers for his deficiencies. An athletic, mobile and skillful midfielder. Enter Thomas Partey. The Partey-Xhaka pivot was one of the reasons Arsenal recovered their form in the second half of the season to reach 6 points off Champions League places. It was one of the most dominant pivots in the league, excellent game after game.


And it is at this point in the story that Granit Xhaka, heavily abused and unappreciated, wants to leave. And to who else but José Mourinho, a coach who knows a good midfielder when he sees one?


Replacing Xhaka is a difficult job as it is. Upgrading on Xhaka is close to mission impossible. To upgrade on Xhaka, you are asking for a mobile midfielder who is also one of the best progressive and volume passers in the game as well as being skillful and athletic. That’s the definition of a world class midfielder. That’s prime Sergio Busquets. That’s Frenkie De Jong. That’s mission impossible. Even the top midfielders don’t have it all. The likes of Gundogan, Thiago and Verrati are great passers, mobile and skillful but they are not athletic. Wjnaldum is skilfull, mobile and athletic but he is not a volume and progressive passer.


Our best hope is to get a top midfielder like the one described above (Manuel Locatelli), but without Champions League football, that is a difficult task. That is why we are keeping tabs on the likes of Bissouma and Neves, both of whom do not yet belong to the ‘top’ category but may reach there with us.


Granit Xhaka is a midfielder with one of the most important roles in football and who mostly does his job admirably well. Finding another player to do that same job with the same level of consistency and effectiveness or even more is a very difficult task especially without Champions League football.


Good luck to us trying to do that.

Predict the score of Arsenal v Inter Milan and win a copy of “Caviar and Sausages – Arsenal in the time of Wenger”

Tags Granit Xhaka


Add a Comment
  1. 03 gooner says:

    Although Locatelli would be a great signing to replace xhaka, I think it’s now time to pull out of this transfer. I initially understood why we were playing a waiting game but now we should turn our attention to either bissouma or koopmeiners so they can be integrated into squad and play in our last two friendly matches so they’re ready to hit the ground running ahead of the new season.

  2. Thadeus says:

    Xhaka was lousiest mildfielder at Arsenal, he was slow, blind passes, back passes which lead to unnecessary conceded goals, he passes were only back passes or to defenders, he is not active, he doesn’t support defenders, Xhaka looked good, because Deschamp coach of France displaced kante from Midldfield, so it was Xhaka and Pogba, all slowest mildfielders, so Xhaka is useless, with Xhaka u can never win premier,

    1. Fuzzwah says:

      That is your opinion but the evidence suggests otherwise .

      1. SM says:

        Two absolute pearlers from Just Arsenal in the last 24 hours, firstly excusing the Kroenke’s for Arsenals decline over the last 15 years and now bigging up Xhaka. Where do we begin.

        Firstly to compare Xhaka with Wijnaldum is ridiculous. Without even analysing both players and what they bring (or don’t) to each team, Liverpool with Wijnaldum in the team has pretty much won the lot. Xhaka has presided over a decline from being a comfortable top 4 side to Arsenals worst league position in 25 years. Yes you can blame other players, but Xhaka has been a constant in the side. Pretty much if he’s fit, he starts.

        Then you look at what Xhaka brings to the side, yes at times his passing is visionary but the problem is he doesn’t do it enough. Too often like Elneny, he goes for the easy option, sideways or backwards. And the reason he has to play like this is because he has no pace or ability on the ball. When was the last time you saw Xhaka take on his man in a congested midfield and create space for himself to play a killer ball (Petit used to do it all the time)?

        It’s dead easy to close Xhaka down, and how many times has he got caught in possession, then ending up having to lunge at an opposition player in a last ditched attempt to prevent a counter attack, invariably conceding a free kick or worse a yellow/red card.

        And this is the problem with a lot of Arsenal fans, they see him put in one decent performance in five, or a world class performance against France in the Euro’s and proclaim Xhaka to be a baller when he is anything but.

        The reality is whilst he might be comfortable in International football, even in Serie A he is well and truly found out in the Premier League. And for that reason its 100% the correct thing to do and sell him on.

        1. ed says:

          Xhaka, has won over 90% of all one on one battles.
          No one at Arsenal can create the space as Xhaka does, the smartest player ever played since Arteta left Arsenal.
          But, to see what a coach sees at Xhaka you have to be not just a fan of football, playing the game and watching the game are two different things.

          1. TA14 says:

            Where do you get that one from? All the stats show that Xhaka is an error prone average midfielder. Clearly you are watching a different game.

      2. Roger says:

        But where is the evidence, I just read the article and hoped that there would be something to back up this claim, but nada.

      3. jon fox says:

        No it does not “suggest otherwise” ! The evidence tells us, not merely suggests, that he is slow, immobile and virtually useless! We need him out NOW!

    2. Loose Cannon says:

      Agree mate, Xhaka will be difficult to replace because of the following factoprs
      1. Where do you find a pro abusing and ranting foul words at the applauding fans unable to control himself nor does an apology?
      2. Which player is assured the oponents a penalty or a set spece in dangerous areas?
      3. Which player can still play in so many European games and offer ZERO when required most, just like his ex PAL who used to get injured just sitting in the stands!
      4. Assured red card every season due to brain drains at critical moments.
      Why is little Mou wanting him so bad? Simple, the specialist in sacking or the “Sacked one” may be planning his sacking and who else better to help him? Xhaka saw the backs of Wenger (rightly) and Emery (unfortunately) .Mikel missed it by the skin of his teeth (due to his intelligence and masterstroke of cleaning the debris left behind by Wenger in the nick of time)

    3. Mark says:

      Is that why 4 different coaches always had him in the first 11.. I would rather trust them than you..

  3. Eddie says:

    Replacing him would be hard yes.
    I actually don’t watch football with sentiments, I’ve never been a sentimental about fans.
    When they are crap, I label them crap, when they are top, I label them top.
    Xhaka earned his spot in the first eleven.
    Not many can do what he does.
    So like I’ve always said, it’s either he gets replaced by a better player or he doesn’t get replaced at all.
    Fans are usually sentimental when it comes to players, I wish that would stop.
    Anyway let’s see what happens and who his replacement is.
    If his replacement is Ruben Neves, then whoever’s in charge of transfers at Arsenal don’t know shît, because he’s not better than Xhaka

  4. gotanidea says:

    Wijnaldum’s world class close control made Liverpool able to keep the ball in midfield area and I agree that his playing style isn’t exciting to see, but we should’ve compared Xhaka to Henderson

    Similar to Henderson, Xhaka is essential for our passes on the left side, our aerial presence in midfield and acts as the last shield for our CBs. He always stays behind as well, when all other midfielders are in the opposition’s half

    If we don’t replace Xhaka with another left-footed DM, Magalhaes or Mari would likely be tasked to interchange their position between left CB and left DM. Chielini, Bastoni and Acerbi did this in Euro, to supply Spinazzola and Insigne with the passes along the left sideline

    1. VasC says:

      Maybe we need to recruit a specialist “LEFT FOOTER” coach, a specialist “Left CB-to-DM” in-game transition coach along with our new set-piece coach.

    2. Sylva says:

      We don’t need a left footed Defensive midfielder badly as there are not many good ones available; and the ones available will be expensive. The Wenger invisible team played with 2 skillful physical defensive midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 most times.. Just like you said earlier, Arteta only needs to be dynamic tactically if he doesn’t a left footed midfilder. He doesn’t also have to play through the left bcos other coaches can predict his style easily. He should be versatile and flexible as a coach.

      1. VasC says:

        I don’t know if you’ve noticed previous comments of GAI that In every one out of three comments, you’ll find at least a combination of two of these without difficulty. Left-foot, Euro, Mancini, Chiellini, Bonucci, Spinazolla and Italy. Gotanidea got just an Italian Idea.

        1. gotanidea says:

          Just wanna show the most recent example that everybody can still remember

      2. gotanidea says:

        Agreed, because Mancini has shown it in Euro. But we’ll a ball-playing left CB like Chiellini to make our positional play work

  5. Highbury Hero says:

    Although I like Granit as a person, I am one of those who needed Mourinho eyes to see what he bring to the team.

    Thanks for this wonderful article. I am one of those who don’t care at all about the mathematics and science of the game (I believe it is the most unnecessary thing needed to enjoy the game) and simply enjoy the artistic side, immensely.

    This article is very well written, clearly understood and very educational. I will be watching Granit if he stay with us with new perspective.

    To some of the contributers who told me I don’t have much (or nothing?) to contribute on the technical side of the game take a lesson from this article because your contributions you so believe are technical are not all that.

    Next time when you contribute on the technical side of the game try to elaborate so that some us who don’t care about it can at least understand your points and maybe learn a thing or two.

    A good example is this article. I did not plan to read it all the way or even comment but I was hooked after the first paragraph. Admn please encourage the writer to do more of these.

    1. Uyai says:

      Interesting piece of write up. Meanwhile, nobody is replaceable. We should understand what team we want to build, and just get players that fit into such pattern and formation. Arteta’s/Arsenal plan is different from Switzerland/Manager plan. Overall, Granit Xhaka is a really great player I personally would love to managed.

    2. Admin Pat says:

      I always do!
      But he is abusy man….

  6. kev says:

    Seems like everyone is catching up now. Xhaka to AS Roma done deal as brought to you several days ago.

    As things stand Tammy Abraham to Arsenal will not happen. Its all just media talk

    1. Kedar says:

      Hi Kev
      So what are most likely incomings before closure of Window??

      1. kev says:

        Can’t tell at the moment. I want to see some of our players who are likely to be gone confirmed to be gone first. Obviously White will be having his medical soon. I predict Aouar and Bissouma

    2. Weeble says:

      Good, we do not need more forwards.

  7. Sean Williams says:

    Xhaka slowed Arsenal’s game down to a detrimental degree. Many other EPL sides had much sharper midfields. He will do better in slower Italian football. To me he held Arsenal back and I am happy he is leaving.

    1. siamois says:

      Xhaka and Arsenal got found out more and more teams to beat us were especially targeting Xhaka putting him under pressure and not giving him time to take a 2nd touch (which he likes & trends to do a lot)forcing errors and stopping him from making those long defense splitting passes Mouinho clearly said it”if you want to stop Arsenal you need to stop Xhaka)

  8. Jakes Mradu says:

    Most fans don’t liked Xhaka…… Arteta on the same page as the writer..I think so cos Arteta plays him……this year Arsenal did play very good…..3rd best defense this year and with Xhaka in the team……the writer made me understand something……and our strikers need to be more clinical…………btw….admin is the writer………..!

    1. Highbury Hero says:

      The writer is Al or AL not sure which is which.

      1. Admin Pat says:

        AI – His name is Agboola Israel
        Excellent writer indeed…

        1. jon fox says:

          Well Pat he has a way with words certainly. But as to his opinions, this and his previous Kroenke article have been very wide of the truth,so I will give him a wide berth in future. He is keen but far from knowledgeable IMO!
          I accept that XHAKA DOES DIVIDE Gooners but to try defending Kroenke has lost him agreat deal of future credibility among almost all Gooners and rightly so after such starry eyed adulation of bad people who own us.

    2. Declan says:

      Keep up Jakes, admin did not write this, Agboola did.

  9. Patrick Ssekatawa says:

    Xhaka almost impossible to replace?? Haha! Come on! I’m actually on my knees waiting for the day he’ll be pronounced gone! No player has made more errors leading to goals than that man since he joined from Gladbach! He’s annoyingly immobile, cannot patrol the defensive line in midfield on his own so he needs a partner, cannot receive the ball without facing the direction of play, no athleticism at all, too left-footed so right foot almost useless,……….. no!
    He’s been at Arsenal for 5 years now and the admin is still trying to make a case for him??????
    Look, for a player so important as u say, at 28 years of age, having a £17.5m pricetag on his head and Roma trying to take him for £12m?????????
    Give us a break, Mr. Xhaka should go, we shan’t miss him one bit!

    1. Kay says:

      “Stop Xhaka, you can stop Arsenal”. He was one of the first in the starting 11 under Wenger, Emery, Lunberg and now Arteta. Compare the games we played with him and without him. He has his issues, I have criticized him on numerous occasions but after sitting down to analyze his games, I can say he’s been one of the most reliable arsenal player for the past couple of seasons now.

  10. Ayan says:

    With or without Xhaka, Arsenal midfield needs quality. I’m indifferent whether Xhaka stays or not. What Arsenal needs is quality, mobile and tireless mid-fielders.

  11. Shakir says:

    Agree with this article.
    Xhaka is currently the most consistent player at arsenal.

    Wenger,emery,MA,the swiss coach and now mourinho….. we must all understand that they are actual managers not keyboard ones.So whoever says xhaka is not important,i think they have a personal agenda or is biased.

    1. arie82 says:

      How many time for xhaka to prove his quality at arsenal….
      Hes already here far too long, and he need to leave
      We do not need old pirlo

      1. Mark says:

        How many teams have you coached?

  12. Highbury Hero says:

    And other players and professionals too. Wasn’t he named in some sort of professionals 11 of the season?

    I wouldn’t say they are biased or have an agenda. It really is difficult to see his contribution in the team for untrained eyes.

    1. Highbury Hero says:

      Reply to Shakir

      1. Shakir says:

        Your last sentence is very true.

  13. RW1 says:

    Got to this line “ it is precisely those ‘sideways’ passes that push your team up the pitch and open up the game for you” and realized I operate on a different footballing universe from the writer … for sure if the team is to move forward this guy needs to leave … amongst the worst regular players I can recall and one of reasons we have drifted in to a mid table team

  14. Phoenix Gunner says:

    There are left footed players out there who are fast and play forward and good football out there. Someone like koopmeyier comes to mind, he will do a good job or better than xhaka goal-wise and all, and also bring balance to that midfield by playing on the left side with his left foot too.

  15. Grandad says:

    A very well written article Agboola.While I have never been a great fan of Xhaka because of his lack of pace and athleticism, it is ironic that he appears to be leaving after what was his best season with Arsenal in my opinion.To add to my frustration he produced his best ever performance for Switzerland in the Euros.To be entirely fair to the man he brings balance to the midfield as a left footer and he has been remarkably injury free during his time with Arsenal.I wish him well for the future but I do feel we need to introduce more drive and energy to our midfield if we are to compete for a top four position in a League where players have little time to dwell on the ball.

  16. Phoenix Gunner says:

    Imagine this line up:
    Tammy Abraham
    Martinelli……… Madison…….Saka

    1. Twig says:

      Martinelli keeping Aubameyang on the bench? It looks like a Community Shield lineup you have there.

      1. Kay says:

        Auba should earn his place like every othe players unlike last season when he was always on the field strolling and uninterested.

  17. O Carter says:

    Xhaka is underrated in this current squad (agreed) but for what we are looking to build in the coming years, Koopmeiners from AZ Alkmaar should be Xhaka’s replacement. He’s already better than Xhaka in some aspects of his game (e.g. G/A contribution, defensive ability and variability of passing – sideways, play switch, through balls etc.) yet young enough to develop the other aspects to become overall much better than Xhaka. He also brings game experience and leadership having played 150 first team games for AZ Alkmaar and being the captain for over 2 seasons.

  18. Indian Gunner London says:

    Pirlo was a fast thinker and had vision on what is to be done even in his late 30’s. Xhaka was and is a slow thinker and slow in getting around. I found Elneny better based on what I have seen. In the premier league I would take approx. 15 premier league midfielders in their respective teams over Xhaka.

  19. The-Real-Vieira-Lynn-4ever says:

    absolute rubbish…we’ve lowered our expectations to such a level that even the person who’s trying to convince us of this underwhelming players importance summed up his argument by declaring that Xhaka was someone “who mostly does his job admirably well”…how uninspiring…fitting I guess considering the player in question…please try to remember that this player showed more in 20 minutes of the second half of ONE Euro match than he did during all of his YEARS at the Emirates…this is a perfect example of recency bias…can’t we just move on from this 3-wheeled shopping cart of a player

    1. Highbury Hero says:

      The writer has explained technically why Granit is important to the team and has tried to answer the riddle why Granit is admired and valued by his fellow professional players and managers he has played under while most of the fans don’t see what he actually does that is so admirable and important.

      It is fitting that you debunk the article by diving techinally on why the writer is wrong.

      You told me I have little to contribute techinally so you can imagine my disappointment to see your vague with little substance reply to a technical article.

      I am waiting to see your technical view of Granit contribution to the team.

      1. Benjaminl says:

        Smart reply.

        1. Highbury Hero says:

          Thank you Benjamin.

      2. David Braithwaite says:

        He is slow
        Moves the ball slowly-not the same as above
        He requires a long time and a lot of space to control the football-poor close control
        He has a very wide turning circle
        He cannot receive the ball safely when under pressure
        Cannot dribble
        Has limited mobility
        Over dependent on his left foot
        Rarely finds key through balls
        Occasional lack of awareness
        Loses his head frequently
        Etc etc

        1. The-Real-Vieira-Lynn-4ever says:

          thank you Mr. Braithwaite for providing a concise list of the obvious deficiencies of our “hopefully” former player…I have spoken at length, on numerous occasions, about this individual and had no desire whatsoever to delve, once again, into the myriad of debilitating issues pertaining to this particular player…kudos to you for your efforts sir!!!

        2. Highbury Hero says:

          DB and TRVL, Granit has been a starter , captain and an important player to the team for all the teams he has played.

          He is valued even by managers he doesn’t play under let alone his fellow players and other football professionals.

          How in the world can they all be wrong about him? I will really appreciate your input on this.

          1. The-Real-Vieira-Lynn-4ever says:

            In the recent past, I’ve quoted well-respected midfielders like Keane and Parlour, who have clearly and logically addressed the reasons why he makes no sense in the PL…he’s a system/league dependent player, who given plenty of time on the ball and having two defensively-minded CBs and proper DM at his back, can provide the occasional highlight, but that certainly isn’t enough to justify his seemingly constant presence on the selection sheet…so why?

            for me, his continued presence is largely predicated on poor recruitment practices, our unwillingness to properly invest in that position(especially if it required us to admit to our mistakes and absorb a financial hit), his influence in the locker room due to our devaluing of charismatic players during the latter Wenger era, a change in tactics and his availability come game day

            why don’t you tell me, since he arrived here, who were the suitable in-house alternatives/competition, from a deep-lying perspective, bang average Elneny? out of position Chambers? poor passing AMN? slow-footed Ceballos? oft-injured Wiltshire? the discarded Coq? circle the wagons, problem child Guendo? remember how even Lucas was originally coveted to replace Xhaka and actually made some headway when Emery first arrived, but that quickly waned within a years time due to injuries and Xhaka’s predominant position in an otherwise fractious locker room

            face it, we’ve done a piss-poor job whenever it came time to properly address this position since arriving at the Emirates, minus those early days with Ozil when Santi sat deeper, but the footballing philosophy was radically different at that time…can you even imagine what would have transpired if we expected Xhaka to fill that dribbling-dependent role

            fact is, this defensively frugal team was never going to properly invest in a replacement so long as he was on the books and no team of any consequence, with money to boot, really came a calling…in order to get rid of him, we would have lost a considerable amount of money, then we would have had to navigate an already inflated market, pre-covid, to find an alternative

            as for his captaincy we all know how that both came about and tragically ended

            furthermore, anyone playing the position he did last year, as the pivot in a 4-2-3-1, would have had the same or similar numbers, due to the relative importance of this role in such a defensively-minded scheme…now if we had used this formation in the same capacity as Klopp had in Dortmund, some years back, where the premise was to absorb pressure then counter quickly, the pivot(s) then becomes the integral link between the defensive and final thirds, but what we witnessed last season was clearly not that, as the primary focus was to simply distribute the ball sideways and backwards to retain possession and to kill the clock

      3. The-Real-Vieira-Lynn-4ever says:

        I didn’t feel it necessary or warranted to reiterate the plethora of problematic issues involving this specific player…I’ve spent a considerable amount of time, over the years, addressing my concerns and my opinions have never wavered…if you want to see a fairly thorough list of his most obvious flaws, please look below at DB’s post regarding this matter…Cheers HH

        1. The-Real-Vieira-Lynn-4ever says:

          sorry, I guess I should have said DB’s post above, not below…my bad

  20. Prof.Wenger says:

    I don’t see the point of keeping him if he does not want to stay, we should open the door for him with the right price and maybe consider Bissouma as a replacement and get Aouar now.

  21. jon fox says:

    RE. the headline, why on earth would any club WANT to replace Xhaka !

    We want someone completely different in every way, not a replacement. A replacement for him would be a disaster, as has his entire Arsenal “career” been too!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Top Blog Sponsors
JustArsenal Top Ten UK Blogs