Granit Xhaka: All you need to know

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Granit Xhaka has joined Arsenal from Borussia Monchengladbach for a fee of £30m with possible add-ons in the future up to £35m. 

The facts:

  • 23-years-old
  • Born and raised in Basel, Switzerland, to Kosovo Albanian parents
  • His brother (25) plays for Albania
  • He has signed a 5-year-contract worth a reported £110,000 a week
  • “I was almost speechless when he called”, referring to Wenger’s first call to him.
  • Arsenal scouts have watched him play 30 times before signing him.
  • Xhaka made the Bundesliga Team of the Year last season, alongside Bayern stars Vidal, Muller and Lewandowski.
  • He captained Gladbach last year despite his age, and led them to fourth in the Bundesliga and played in the Champions League (although finished 4th behind Man City, Juventus and Sevilla in a tough group).
  • Granit also captained Switzerland at u17 and u21 age groups, winning the u17 World Cup and taking them to the u21 Euros final.
  • He has an aggressive side. Sent off 8 times in his career to date, he averages a booking every four games.
  • Nicknamed “the little Einstein”, he is not prolific with goals or assists, but similarly to Cazorla, helps break up the play and lays the foundations for attacks.
  • In his first interview with Arsenal he’s already speaking English, despite having never played in an English-speaking country. He can speak four languages, which could come in useful on the pitch.
  • All of the above show he is a leader. Aggressive, passionate, multi-linguist, communicator, winner.
  • In January he joked that he would take take Coquelin’s number 34 shirt if Arsenal signed him.
  • Xhaka won Gladbach’s goal of the year award in two of his three seasons there.
  • Ottmar Hitzfeld, former Switzerland boss and two-times Champions League winner, compared Xhaka to a “young Schweinsteiger”.
  • You can watch him in action for Switzerland at Euro 2016 this summer.

 

After joining, Xhaka told the clubs official website: “I’m very proud to be joining Arsenal. I cannot wait to move to London, represent this special club and play in the Premier League. I will give everything to help Arsenal win trophies and make the fans happy.”

Arsenal must beat Tottenham

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With the title race hanging in the balance and Tottenham sitting just three points above Arsenal, the Gunners have no option but to win the North London Derby this weekend. 

Both teams come into the game off the back of disappointing midweek results which saw Arsenal lose their third consecutive game. A 2-1 loss at home to Swansea, who are fighting relegation, has really caused a stir of frustration amongst the fans who know this is the best chance they have had to win the league in the past 12 years.

A lot always rests on the fiercest derby in English football where pride and bragging rights are always on the line, but this is perhaps the most significant of them all so far in the Premier League era.

Tottenham are undoubtedly in better form, and looking as good as they probably ever have. Yet a derby is the one game where the form book can be thrown out of the window.

It comes down to desire and passion, and hopefully the Arsenal players can use the high intensity atmosphere and amazing away support to immerse themselves in the importance of the occasion, and show that they are serious about playing for this team AND about winning. Although these should go hand-in-hand, without saying.

Arsenal have lost just once to Spurs in the last 7 meetings. That was a 2-1 defeat at White Hart Lane in the corresponding fixture last year. However Arsenal did manage to win there 2-1 themselves earlier this season in the Capital One Cup against a fairly strong Tottenham team, with two stunners from Flamini no less.

A win will take the Gunners back to level on points with Tottenham (54), and hopefully propel the team into finishing above them for the 21st consecutive season. Regardless of who wins the league.

As Ian Wright says, “If we can rule North London, we can rule the country.”

The Run In – Top Four

The following table shows the remaining fixtures of the current top four in the Premier League. Man City are currently scheduled to play the most games, while Leicester are out of every cup competition and only have the league to focus on.

Leicester City v Arsenal - Premier League

Date Arsenal Leicester Tottenham Man City
14 Feb Leicester (H) Arsenal (A) Man City (A) Tottenham (H)
18 Feb N/A N/A Fiorentina (A) N/A
20/21 Feb Hull (H) N/A Crystal Palace (A) Chelsea (A)
23/24/25 Feb Barcelona (H) N/A Fiorentina (H) Dynamo Kiev (A)
27/28 Feb Man United (A) Norwich (H) Swansea (H) Liverpool (N)
1/2 Mar Swansea (H) West Brom (H) West Ham (A) Liverpool (A)
5 Mar Tottenham (A) Watford (A) Arsenal (H) Aston Villa (H)
12/14 Mar West Brom (H) Newcastle (H) Aston Villa (A) Norwich (A)
15/16 Mar Barcelona (A) N/A N/A Dynamo Kiev (H)
19/20 Mar Everton (A) Crystal Palace (A) Bournemouth (H) Man United (H)
2 Apr Watford (H) Southampton (H) Liverpool (A) Bournemouth (A)
9 Apr West Ham (A) Sunderland (A) Man United (H) West Brom (H)
16 Apr Crystal Palace (H) West Ham (H) Stoke (A) Chelsea (A)
23 Apr Sunderland (A) Swansea (H) West Brom (H) Stoke City (H)
30 Apr Norwich (H) Man United (A) Chelsea (A) Southampton (A)
7 May Man City (A) Everton (H) Southampton (H) Arsenal (H)
15 May Aston Villa (H) Chelsea (A) Newcastle (A) Swansea (A)

Arsenal, Tottenham and Man City are still in the FA Cup and should they qualify for the later rounds, these will be played on the following dates:

  • Quarter Final – 12/13 Mar
  • Semi Final – 23/24 Apr
  • Final – 21 May

Arsenal and Man City remain in the Champions League, and qualification to the next round will result in fixtures on these dates:

  • Quarter Final -1st Leg – 5/6 Apr, 2nd Leg – 12/13 Apr
  • Semi Final – 1st Leg – 26/27 Apr, 2nd Leg 3/4 May
  • Final – 28 May

Similarly Tottenham in the Europa League:

  • Round of 16 – 1st Leg – 10 Mar, 2nd Leg – 17 Mar
  • Quarter Final – 1st Leg – 7 Apr, 2nd Leg – 14 Apr
  • Semi Final – 1st Leg – 28 Apr, 2nd Leg -5 May
  • Final – 18 May

Fixture clashes will result in Premier League ties being moved to an available date later in the season; most likely on a weekday between games where possible.

Why Santi is Arsenal’s Main Man

Arsenal lost more ground in the title race on Tuesday night, falling to fourth place while all rivals picked up comfortable wins. 

Largely to blame for Arsenal’s third game without a goal in the Premier League is the shambolic performances of the Arsenal midfield.

Since picking up an injury last year away to Norwich, Santi Cazorla has been severely missed in the centre of the midfield. Replaced by Aaron Ramsey, who has been playing alongside Flamini, has resulted in chaotic defending, and indecisive attacking.

Arsenal lead the league at Christmas, and picked up a reasonable 27 points from the 14 games prior to Santi’s injury. In the 10 games so far without, only 18 points have been won.

However it is the form of the team that is the most worrying issue with a lot of those points having been picked up throughout December against relegation battling sides (bar Man City). Arsenal’s run is now 4 games without a win, and 3 games without a goal. Excluding the Burnley FA Cup win.

Cazorla is a magician on the ball. The ball seems to stick to his foot as he wriggles out of every incoming tackle, and more often than not continues by finding a teammate with an incisive ball up the field.

And there you have the difference. Perhaps it goes unnoticed, and often without praise, but Santi picks the ball up deep off the defenders, and moves it on quickly to the ‘flare’ players enabling our quick flowing, counter-attacking football, sometimes chipping in with his own direct assists and goals.

But more often than not, he assists the assists. He has the mind to find Ozil quickly, who in turn can find Walcott, Sanchez, Giroud, and the back of net before the opposition can get back and stop it.

With Ramsey playing in that role, especially against Southampton, we struggled to pick the ball up and move it forward quickly. Too often Sanchez or Ozil would come deep to get that ball, and then they are out of position and the momentum has gone.

Although we still created chances against Southampton, they were not as clear cut as we usually create. And a majority of them came down to crosses, because we simply allowed Southampton’s defenders to get back behind the ball and sit deep.

Flamini is not the best defensive midfielder in the world, but he gives his all to the team, and deserves respect for what he has given the club over the years. I don’t put him at fault for the lack of what I believe Aaron should have provided going forward. However it is clear that Coquelin has the passion for that role and this team, as well as the ability to match.

We must hope and wait for a fully fit Cazorla to return to the fold as soon as possible, he should only be a few weeks away as long as he is on still on schedule.

 

Arsenal v Manchester City Preview

Arsenal host Manchester City on Monday night, and a win will take them back to two points behind Premier League leaders Leicester City, but perhaps more importantly, leave Man City four points behind, and move seven points clear of fourth. 

Here are my predicted starting XI’s:

Arsenal vs Man City - Premier League - 21st December 2015 - Football tactics and formations

Despite them both having only returned to training in the past week, I am expecting both Sanchez and Aguero to start, in what is the biggest game of the season so far. Meanwhile the rest of the Arsenal team will remain unchanged with Campbell the only player dropping out. City will also be largely the same but De Bruyne will come in for Navas, and Bony will drop to the bench.

Sanchez will have completed a few training sessions, while Aguero has had longer to regain fitness. However we all know that the Chilean doesn’t need much recovery time before he’s firing on all cylinders again. At the same time, the risk of another injury would not be worth the gamble for Wenger if he’s not completely ready with such a busy schedule set to ensue.

Form

Arsenal are going into the game off the back of three consecutive victories, which has taken them to 2nd in the Premier League, as well as securing a Round of 16 tie against Barcelona in the Champions League. Arsene Wenger will be hoping to keep this momentum going and confidence throughout the squad growing before a hectic festive period which see’s the Gunners play Southampton and Bournemouth before hosting Newcastle all within a week.

Meanwhile Manchester City scrapped a late win against a struggling Swansea side last week, and lost away to Stoke the previous week. They will be looking to make a resurgence with a fit again Aguero, attempting to prove that they are rightly favourites to win the league this year.

Key Battles

Bellerin v Sterling

It will be a big test for Bellerin who has not been in the best of form since his return from injury several games ago. Contrastingly, Raheem Sterling has been one of City’s best players this season, if not the best. Delivering fairly consistently while injuries have blighted a lot of his teammates.

Giroud v Otamendi/Mangala

I expect Giroud will mostly take up his position on Mangala’s side given he is the poorer of the two at present. How well he can hold up the ball and bring others in to play will be crucial to our game, against a team who will most likely set up very defensively as they always have done at the Emirates.

Flamini v Silva

With Coquelin a long-term absentee, it falls to Flamini to take up the mantle once again. How effectively he can stop the little Spaniard from picking out Augero, de Bruyne or Sterling, will be integral to Arsenal’s defensive resolve.

Of course there will be battles all over the park, these are just a few key ones to name.

Opta Stats

Arsenal have lost only one in their last 18 home meetings with Manchester City, and 4 of the last 6 games between the two at the Emirates have resulted in draws, with 1 win a piece.

Despite Man City’s wealth and the force they have become in recent years, they have always come to the Emirates looking to play counter-attacking football, and most importantly, to not concede.

Arsenal are often questioned over their performances against the bigger teams, but with 2 wins and a draw against City last season, and home wins against Manchester United and Bayern Munich already this season, the shroud surrounding this is finally starting to dissipate.