If someone was to ask you how to best describe Granit Xhaka, I'd imagine there may be a few different options that will bounce around in your brain. From physical, to a left foot softer than a baby's bottom, there are a few others that would fit in-between.
Since his arrival in North London following a transfer fee of around £40.5M, the Swiss international has had his fair share of critics.
His arrival at the club meant that the Gunners would now have a real presence in the center of the park. That proved to be true after his first handful of appearances. From bullying the opposition, to risky tackles that got him sent off, it was more than apparent that Xhaka would need time to adjust to the Premier League, and the pace of the game. Everyone gave Pogba the benefit of the doubt last season, and he arrived with higher expectations and a much higher price tag, so why shouldn't we cut Xhaka some slack?
The fact that maybe Arsenal's system didn't really play into his strengths also wouldn't have helped with the adjustment period.
He found himself getting criticized after a risky challenge in an area of the pitch that didn't pose any danger, or a bone crunching tackle that would even make Patrick Vieira cringe. But, at least he wasn't putting opposing players in a headlock, aka Charlie Adam.
It's more than obvious he's made adjustments, and he's slowly imposing himself on the pitch. Arsene Wenger's choice to tinker with the formation has also benefited Xhaka, limiting the need for him to put himself into risky situations. Another defender behind him also offers some additional peace of mind and confidence.
Taking a look at last season's averages, his numbers are comparable with one of the best.
He was better statistically than Matic, who was an integral part of the Premier League winning side. In addition, Matic didn't have to endure many midweek fixtures seeing as Chelsea didn't take part in any European competitions. Therefore, you'd imagine that Xhaka's form would dip, but it's evident that wasn't the case.
With three less appearances in the Premier League, the Swiss international was better in every category apart from interceptions. Again, quite impressive when you consider all the factors.
So I can't help but wonder why Xhaka isn't rated, yet, even in his first season in the Premier League his statistics are equal or better to one of the best in that position in the entire league. Does it primarily come down to the fact that he plays for Arsenal? Because I can't really find any other reason as to why most non-Arsenal supporters don't rate him.
Coming into the 2017/18 campaign, I had high hopes for him, and he's delivered thus far.
He had a total of 91 passes leading Chelsea's pass leader Fabregas by 29, provided the assist for Sead the Tank's goal, had a 91% pass rating, and was voted man of the match. On Friday against Leicester, he had 99 passes, an 82% pass rating, and two assists. Yes, the second goal is his fault after that dodgy pass to Bellerin out wide, but he didn't let that affect him, and instead, he battled back, and claimed two vital assists.
After the mistake leading to Leicester's second goal, some players would have mentally broken down, not Xhaka.
In my opinion, the most impressive stat from both those fixtures is the fact that he only committed one foul between both matches, with it coming against Leicester. Yet, if you ask most footy supporters, he's too physical, he's too aggressive, etc. One foul over 180+ minutes of football, for a defensive midfielder, who in both matches, was chasing the match at one point. Let that stat sink in…
The way he just knocks the ball about the pitch is a pleasure to watch. His ability to play an accurate long pass is impressive to say the least, and he's not afraid to let one fly from distance.
Along with Elneny, he's formed a solid partnership over the last two fixtures. The likelihood of that partnership staying intact with Ramsey being fully fit is doubtful, but it actually works. Elneny does the running, and Xhaka keeps the shape. With Ramsey in there, he's not as defensive minded as Elneny, nor is he as disciplined, so it does expose Xhaka a bit more.
Either way, I'm a believer that the ideal partnership would be him and Santi, but it seems that we may have to wait a bit longer for that to happen. I wouldn't even mind seeing Jack in there if healthy, but again, we may have to wait for that.
So while all the pundits are focusing on Matic at Old Trafford, or Kante at Stamford Bridge, I believe that Xhaka is going to quickly prove that in comparison to many others in his position, he was an absolute bargain for the price Arsenal paid for him.
Oh, and before I forget, if one of your arguing points is that he is only able to use his left foot, you should watch him closely. He's clearly shown he can use both feet, although he obviously prefers his left. What foot does Messi prefer? Maldini? Roberto Carlos? Matic? Fabregas? Ramsey? Ozil? Need me to name anymore?! I rest my case!
Agree? Disagree? That's fine, share your thoughts in the comments below.