Granit Xhaka celebrates scoring for Arsenal ()Granit Xhaka celebrates scoring for Arsenal () © Copyright

Petit + Viera = Xhaka?

Can the tough-tackling, pass-spraying Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka help Arsène solve the equation he’s struggled with for 12 years?

This summer, Arsene Wenger had a shopping list longer than that of a family of six heading into Tesco. The north London club left much of their big business until late in the window, but earlier in the summer, they were quick to secure the signature of box-to-box Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka for £34million from Borussia Mönchengladbach, where he had been made captain aged just 21.

Xhaka (who turns 24 during the period this mag is on the shelves) offers an impressive passing range, but is usually deployed deep to disrupt opposition players before launching a counter attack.

“I was always more of an offensive footballer,” he tells FS when we meet in London. “A couple of months ago, I ran into one of my youth coaches from Basel, and he said he was surprised to see how physically strong I was, and what a rough player I had become: I think that’s something that I learned in the Bundesliga.”

Granit Xhaka header di Maria ()

 

Xhaka’s Premier League debut typified how wild the English game can be. He was introduced as a second-half substitute in Arsenal’s opening weekend 4-3 defeat to Liverpool, a topsy-turvy game that was high-spirited, and punctuated by moments of quality. Xhaka quickly picked up a booking for chopping down Sadio Mané.

“It’s what makes the Premier League so attractive to overseas players,” he explains. “You can win 4-3, lose 4-3, draw 4-4. I would obviously prefer to have won, but it was great to be part of such a game.”

In recent seasons, ‘the Arsenal’ have looked best when their central midfield pairing really clicks. They picked up a win at the Etihad last year when Francis Coquelin snapped at the feet of City’s midfielders and Santi Cazorla provided balls to the front men. Xhaka can do both of these jobs, and that’s what makes him such an exciting proposition at a club desperate to win a first title since 2004.

Xhaka was born in Basel, Switzerland, after his parents emigrated from Albania at the dawn of the 1990s. He and elder brother Taulant, who plays for FC Basel, were both raised Swiss, but while Granit opted to represent Switzerland, Taulant plays for Albania.

Granit Xhaka sliding tackle ()

 

At Euro 2016, the two countries were drawn together in Group A. “There was incredible euphoria in my family, then it calmed down a bit,” says Xhaka. “A few days before the game, it picked up again. Not just in the family, but in Albania and Kosovo, too, because we have six players of Albanian descent in the Swiss team.

“But I can honestly tell you I hoped to never play against my brother again. On one hand, it was incredible, but in others, it was awful. I remember a couple of hours before the game, I talked to my brother. He’s more experienced and so a bit mentally stronger than me. He told me to ‘be happy and try to savour the game’.”

Granit Xhaka wears the Under Armour ClutchFit boots

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