To bench or to play: Arsenal's Xhaka conundrum
It was three years ago that Granit Xhaka arrived at Arsenal amidst much fanfare. It was the most Arsenal had ever splashed on a central midfielder. He was supposed to bring the much-needed steel and grit to Arsenal's midfield, to be the leader that Arsenal lacked. Three years later, the jury is still out on whether he has been a success or not.
He is definitely a bit of a leader on the pitch. He never shirks away from criticism and is well respected by his teammates. Arsene Wenger rated him highly and Emery seems to consider him a very important member of the team as well. He could be in the running for club captaincy of Arsenal. But the issues in his game persists, and he has not turned out to be the midfielder most thought he would.
Except for a couple of months in the beginning, he has been an undisputed starter for Arsenal since he joined. However, with the signing of Torriera last season, Ceballos arriving on loan, and the emergence of the likes of Guendouzi and Willock, competition is fierce for spots in Arsenal's midfield. There is a genuine case for Xhaka to be dropped from the starting XI.
Xhaka is a wonderful player to watch when the team is in control. His excellent passing range is on full display on such occasions. And as a result, Xhaka's best displays have come for Arsenal at the Emirates where they tend to dominate games. It is not the case away from home. He struggles when pressed heavily and his lack of mobility is also an issue.
Like Mustafi, he is also prone to rashness and unforced errors. No midfielder has made more errors leading to a goal than Xhaka in the last 3 seasons. He leads the chart with 7. Also in the 3 seasons before he joined, Arsenal ranked 2nd, 3rd, and 3rd in the away table. In the three seasons since he joined Arsenal have ranked 6th, 11th, and 8th in the away table. While it would be unfair to blame this on Xhaka, his presence has been a factor.
Xhaka could very well be the next captain of Arsenal. He is also going to be in the starting 11 for Arsenal in their opening games of Premier League. Dropping the captain of a team is always a very difficult call to make. It's yet to be seen if Emery will be bold enough to drop him if his struggles continue. Emery has taken some brave decisions in the past with the likes of Mesut Ozil and it looks like soon he will have another tough call to make.