Should Granit Xhaka remain an automatic pick for Unai Emery? (Picture: Getty)

Of the five players appointed to be members of Unai Emerys captaincy group last summer, only one has played any minutes in an Arsenal shirt this season.

Petr Cech retired and returned to Chelsea, Aaron Ramsey left to join Juventus at the end of his contract, Laurent Koscielny went on strike to force a move to Bordeaux and Mesut Ozils inadvertent involvement in a north London gang war has seen him excused from action.

That has left Granit Xhaka as the sole survivor of Emerys original captaincy group this season, with the Swiss international playing the full 90 minutes in two of Arsenals three Premier League fixtures and wearing the armband both times. Nacho Monreal, seemingly on his way to Real Sociedad, did so in the other.

Ahead of Arsenals opening home game of the season against Burnley, it was Xhaka who was tasked with writing the traditional captains notes in the pre-match programme, even though he is yet to have been given the position full-time.



Xhaka is a valued member of the Arsenal squad, comes across as measured and well-informed in interviews and clearly possesses strong leadership skills considering he is Switzerlands permanent captain at the age of 26.

Granit Xhaka holds out his arms during Arsenal's defeat to Liverpool
Granit Xhaka has captained Arsenal so far this season (Picture: Getty)

Yet despite this representing Xhakas fourth season at Arsenal, there remains a nagging sense that he still doesnt quite fit the teams style on the pitch, particularly with Emery injecting further pace and energy into his squad during the summer.

Although there can be no doubting Xhakas expansive passing ability, question marks remain about his suitability to fulfil a role in Emerys midfield given he lacks the requisite attributes to perform in a high-octane, pressing system.

At times during Arsenals defeat to Liverpool on Saturday, the pace of the game appeared to pass Xhaka by. In fairness, he was far from alone in this respect. The more nimble and agile Dani Ceballos felt the full brunt of the Liverpool press when he shanked a cross-field pass straight to Sadio Mane inside his own penalty box when swarmed by red shirts.

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Nevertheless, Ceballos has the physical and technical attributes to play himself out of such situations and once he has acclimatised to the pace of the Premier League, he will be better prepared to avoid a repeat performance. Xhaka, on the other hand, has been unable to adapt when the tempo of a game increases.

For a player for whom pace and mobility has never been part of his skill-set, it seems strange that he has spent formative and peak years of his career playing in the two quickest, most physically demanding top leagues in Europe: first the Bundesliga, now the Premier League, rather than the more serene world of La Liga.

Unai Emery gives instructions to Matteo Guendouzi during an Arsenal training session
Unai Emery has sought to re-energise Arsenals midfield with youthful players like Matteo Guendouzi (Picture: Getty)

In both leagues, Xhaka has an extremely sketchy disciplinary record. Over the past six league seasons, Xhaka has accumulated 51 yellow cards – one every 3.6 games – and a large chunk of those have been professional fouls on players who have skipped past him in midfield.



Xhaka really struggles when an opposition team is in an attacking transition – i.e. when they launch attack quickly having regained possession of the ball – due to his inability to cover ground and therefore, space quickly which leaves his defence exposed.

That Xhaka has defensive deficiencies in his game is hardly a new phenomenon but in order to mask them, he has to overcompensate in other areas to remain an asset to his team. Unquestionably his standout attribute is his passing, both in terms of accuracy and range.

Xhaka attempted 480 more passes than any other Arsenal player in the Premier League last season while his pass accuracy rate has never dipped below 85% since his very first campaign with Borussia Monchengladbach in 2012-13.

Granit Xhaka talks with referee Anthony Taylor at Anfield
Xhaka has been booked 26 times in the Premier League (Picture: Getty)

With Ozil currently out of the side, Xhaka is Arsenals best passer of the ball by some distance, but there have been accusations levelled at him that he takes too long to release it once he has received it, thus slowing down the pace of attacking moves.

As was shown against Liverpool at the weekend, Emery will look to set his team up to counter-attack on occasion, through the pace of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe in the attack, but for that strategy to work, they need to be fed passes at the earliest opportunity while the opponents defence is out of shape.

Despite only playing two out of three Premier League matches this season, Xhaka ranks 50th across the Premier League for the number of touches taken with 203, which foRead More – Source