Xhaka excelled in Switzerland’s draw with Germany, showing one particular facet of his game that Mikel Arteta has yet to exploit
When Mikel Arteta analyses the match-up between two of his key players from Sunday’s Nations League tie between Germany and Switzerland there will be plenty that was good in Granit Xhaka’s performance that ought to be no surprise to the Arsenal head coach.
There was the exceptional range of passing, the robust approach to defending and the vocal leadership that translated even through to television viewers – he seemed to be urging Breel Embolo to press high up the pitch when Germany had possession as the Swiss battled to a 1-1 draw.
In his second match as his country’s captain, Xhaka was at the vanguard of a Swiss side who gave as good as they got against Germany, registering 20 shots on goal to their visitors’ 14 and winning the possession battle in the first half at least.
His performance won high praise from Swiss media with Tages-Anzeiger awarding him their highest rating. “Everyone knows: he is the boss, strategist and spokesman, a lot depends on him,” they said. It is certainly not an assessment that Arteta would quibble with.
Living up to his billing as “strategist and spokesman”, Xhaka spoke of how his side had done “a lot of things very positively” and indicated that they might have deserved greater reward. He seeemed to be relishing his chance to lead a younger Switzerland, one with no outfield players over the age of 28.
Xhaka might have been the most deserving of all in what could be described as a clinic of his most effective trait, those searing long balls out to the flanks that have been so easy on the eye when he is in full swing.
It took some time for him to get going but by the midway point of the first half he was spraying passes over the top to take out four Germany defenders.
Soon after he was finding Djibril Sow in space in the penalty area. The Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder did perhaps even better to flick the ball across goal to Haris Seferovic, whose tame volley did not even test Leno.
That was one of the many highlights of an outstanding night of passing from Xhaka, who completed 68 of 75 attempts according to Wyscout. Facing off against Toni Kroos and Ilkay Gundogan the Arsenal man did not look remotely out of place.
Of the nine long passes Xhaka attempted six found their mark, none more impressive than this gaudy crossfield, outside of the left boot volley into the path of Renato Steffen.
Once more there was more to it than just looking good for the cameras – and it sure did – this was one of a string of chances for Switzerland to win the game late on.
Indeed had the Arsenal midfielder’s stopping header in added time been a few inches to the right then Vladimir Petkovic’s side would have had a crucial victory in their battle to avoid relegation from Nations League Group A4.
It was not the only time Xhaka had his Arsenal team-mate Bernd Leno feeling nervous as he registered five shots on the German goal. In the 12 games he played for Arteta’s side post restart he only took aim and fired on four occasions.
That was redolent of a wider trend for Xhaka. In Premier League games during his first season in Arsenal colours (2016/17) the 27-year-old took 35 shots at goal. Year two brought 66 but from then on the decline has been vertiginous, 31 in Unai Emery’s first campaign and 11 last term.