83 88% 7.4 207 67%
2.4 0.8 3.1 77%
2.7 2.6 (2.9 2.2)
23 3 7 3 2 1
6 29 35 83
Those are the stats that prove Arsenal want Granit Xhaka as a replacement for Mikel Arteta. But as they say, stats don’t tell the whole story and that is why I also use… words.
As limited as stats can be, as misleading as they can be, and as much as people use them in ways that frustrate me, they are useful when comparing two like things. For example, when comparing two classy center mids like Granit Xhaka and Mikel Arteta.
83 88% 7.4 207 67%
Like Arteta, Xhaka is the best passer on his team and also like Arsenal, BMG are the type of team who build from the back. Their center back Andres Christensen averages 60 passes per game and passes at an 88% rate. If you just look at short passes Christensen is a 92% passer and his partner at the back, a young guy named Havard Nordtveit, is an 89% passer. Both center backs are about 50% with their long bombs and are numbers 2 and 3 in total passing volume. Their job is to get the ball to Xhaka.
Arsenal deploy two ball playing center backs whose job it is to get the ball to two ball playing midfielders. At peak Arteta (2012/13) he was partnered with a midfield runner in Aaron Ramsey. This was before Hollywood Ramsey and all the goals, Ramsey’s job was more to provide an outlet for Arteta.
Xhaka leads the team in passing volume with almost 83 passes a game. His midfield partner is Mahmoud Dahoud and he averages just 40 passes per game. In the Arteta/Ramsey midfield, they averaged 81 and 54 respectively. Much of the burden for getting the Borussia Monchengladbach (BMG) attack going is shouldered by Xhaka.
And in his more lone role at the base of the midfield, it’s probably no surprise to learn that he also leads the team in long passes, completing 7.4 per contest. BMG are not a long ball team, they are 4th in the Bundesliga in both possession and pass completion percentage. This long pass just happens to be one of Xhaka’s talents. He is a 67% long passer, making 7.4 out of 11 in each game.
In his pomp at Arsenal, Mikel Arteta was a similar, though much more accurate version, of Xhaka. In 2012/2013 Arsenal were number one in the Premier League in possession and pass completion percentage and Mikel Arteta was a huge part of that. Arteta led Arsenal in passes per game with 81 and had a pass completion of 91%.
Arteta also led Arsenal in long passes, though with a very special difference to Xhaka; Arteta was the most accurate long passer I have ever seen. He completed 5.3/6.1 long passes per game for Arsenal in that season, 87%. Laurent Koscielny (who took over for Vermaelen that season) was an 87% passer, in short passes. Mikel Arteta was as accurate hitting the ball long to a forward as Laurent Koscielny was passing the ball to Arteta. Even Fabregas at his peak with Barcelona was only an 83% long passer.
Arsenal don’t hit a lot of long passes, they have been 20th in the Premier League in long passing volume for four years straight. But having the long pass in the Arsenal is an important weapon and one which Arsenal have been missing for two years. Despite all of his obvious talents, Santi Cazorla is only hitting 3.5 accurate long balls per game this season and at a 65% rate. Instead of moving the ball to midfield where Arsenal can dictate play a little deeper in the opposition half, most of the long passes are now coming from Arsenal’s goalkeepers, where the accuracy is below 50%. Lumping up 50-50 balls from the keeper is a big reason why Arsenal aren’t able to retain possession as well as they have in the past.
As far as I’m concerned Xhaka is on par with other top level center mids in terms of his passing and is a welcome replacement for Arteta who lost his legs two years ago. That leaves some other stats to consider.
2.4 0.8 3.1 77% 3.2 1.1 4.3 74%
The numbers most people look at when it comes to a center mid is tackles. Most assume that if you see a player who tackles 8 times a game, he’s a Beast. But the reality is that there are a number of reasons why a player might be making a lot of tackles and they have very little to do with whether the player is in fact a cerebral, hairy, member of the X-Men.
The biggest reason why a player might have low/high tackle numbers is that teams have different playing styles: Sam Allardyce teams are notorious for not tackling (they prefer killing the game by other means), Tottenham and Liverpool are playing an aggressive high press and despite excellent possession numbers are in the top of the League in tackles. Meanwhile, Arsenal don’t play a high press and don’t aggressively tackle and they are consistently last in that category.
You might think that I’m getting ready to say that his tackle numbers are bad. They aren’t. BMG are a middle of the table tackling team and he leads his team in tackles with 2.4 per game. He doesn’t tackle as much as Arteta did in 2012/13 (3.2 per game) but when he does tackle he wins 75% of those challenges. Again, this is similar to Arteta who won 74% in that season.
I am curious to see how much more he will have to tackle at Arsenal. The Gunners are notorious for pressing high up the pitch and leaving their central midfielders in tons of space. Anyone who has played the CDM role for Arsenal has averaged over 3 tackles a game and has made 73% of them or more.
2.7 2.6 2.9 2.2
One of the stats Arsenal are most famous for is interceptions. Arsenal typically lead the League in this category despite also leading the League in possession. This season they were usurped by Leicester who made it their mission to win all the defensive stats on the way to claiming the Title but that doesn’t mean that Wenger doesn’t like interceptions any more.
Coquelin led Arsenal with 3.7 interceptions per game last season. At peak Arteta he led Arsenal with 2.9 per game. Granit Xhaka leads BMG with 2.7 per game. I would expect this number to go up at Arsenal.
One other number there, the 2.6. That is the number of fouls per game by Xhaka. Granit is hard and he has no problem fouling. He also has 3 red cards this season along with 5 yellow cards. This is a stat that people point to as a problem with Xhaka to which I would reply: yes, he will need to watch himself but also, those fouls and cards were picked up in the Bundesliga.
He’s a tough character who has no problem “taking one for the team” and fouling on a breakaway. He will also stand up for his teammates and has no problem tackling in retribution. And he also has a bit of a temper and can pick up red card for silliness, like he did this December when he just kicked a guy.
In his Bundesliga career he has 5 red cards and that’s a problem for some people. But I don’t have a problem with his feisty nature because he reminds me of Patrick Vieira. And let’s not forget that Vieira has 8 red cards, the most in Premier League history.
23 3 7 3 2 1
Did you know he’s left footed? Yep. 23 shots with his left, 3 with his right, 7 with his head. He also scored 3 goals this season for BMG and none of them from open play. He scored a long-range pile driver from a set play and two headers from set plays as well. He’s not a shooter, he doesn’t set others up (though he can), and he doesn’t really go forward. He’s much like Arteta in that way: he would much rather stay back and dictate play from deep in midfield.
6 29 35 83
This was the combination to my locker in High School and with that I can say that now you know the whole story.
For those who need to see all the players compared, here;
Basically, he’s your Arteta replacement. A younger, tougher, slightly meaner version of Arteta who can play a cultured ball over the top, play the safe pass in midfield, and stand up for his teammates. All around solid midfielder who reminds me of Vieira. I’ll take three!