How did Arsenal’s new signing Granit Xhaka get on in Switzerland’s 1-0 win over Albania at Euro 2016? Gunners fans are likely to have been encouraged by what they saw.
Since Arsenal announced the signing of Granit Xhaka from Borussia Monchengladbach, supporters have heard plenty about his leadership qualities – most memorably illustrated by the curious claim that he’d received the house keys before his elder brother Taulant.
The build-up to Saturday’s Switzerland and Albania game understandably focused on the fact that this brother would be lining up for the opposition. But once the game kicked off, Arsenal fans got some answers to what they really want to know – will he help them win?
On this evidence, expect there to be a buzz. Arsenal’s physicality in midfield has been the subject of criticism and not without reason. They ranked among the bottom five for tackles last season, while Leicester and Tottenham were both among the top three tacklers in the Premier League.
Xhaka looks capable of changing those numbers. With six red cards in his Gladbach career, there’s no questioning his combative approach and a big tackle on Amir Abrashi early on was every bit as aggressive as anything seen by Francis Coquelin in an Arsenal shirt.
Just before the 20-minute mark, Xhaka’s reaction to losing possession was impressive too – pressing one man and then the next in order to win back the ball, eventually robbing his brother before getting up off the ground quickly to build the attack once more.
Arsenal legend and Sky Sports pundit Thierry Henry liked what he saw. “He showed that he doesn’t care whether he’s playing against his brother or against his roots,” said Henry, covering the game for the BBC. “He just wants to win the game.”
Man of the match
Granit Xhaka was named UEFA’s official man of the match in Switzerland’s win over Albania.
Even that brief passage of play was evidence of Xhaka’s twin talent for tough tackling and positive passing. Indeed, the 23-year-old completed more passes than any other player on the pitch – 101 of them. Nobody else managed more than 70.
While there was little wrong with his ball-retention skills, what was particularly striking is that Xhaka looked forwards where possible. He played a game-high six accurate long passes before the break, spraying balls left and right in an attempt to beat Albania’s pressing.
Switzerland 1 Albania 0
Haris Seferovic really should have guaranteed Xhaka an assist but he failed to finish chances threaded through to him in the left channel either side of half-time. The midfielder’s total of three chances created was the joint-most of any player.
Tackling and passing. Creativity and presence. The tales of Xhaka’s character – it’s emerged that he gives 80 per cent of his salary straight to his parents – will no doubt continue. But this was a welcome reminder that the player can bring plenty to Arsenal on the pitch too.