Arsenal managed to win on the opening day of the Premier League, but it was far from easy for them, as they had to come from behind twice. It started well for them, as Alexandre Lacazette scored on his Premier League debut within minutes. However, the decision to play so many players out of their natural positions meant that they didn’t look a cohesive unit, especially in defence. Their first match of the season raised more questions than answers, but one player to shine was Granit Xhaka.
The Swiss international arrived to much fanfare last summer, but he failed to make the impact that many expected. The 3-4-2-1 formation suits him and he is beginning to emerge as one of the key players in this Arsenal team. He grabbed two assists on Friday to add to his one from the Community Shield last weekend. The 24-year-old has the license to roam and influence the play in the final third, which allows his passing range to come to the fore.
For the equalising goal, Xhaka showed an impressive reading of the game and accuracy with his passing as he picked out Aaron Ramsey in a packed penalty area. It was an excellent display of vision and shows the quality he can offer on the ball. His second assist came from a nice delivery from a corner, which Olivier Giroud headed home.
Although he is known for his tough tackling, the 24-year-old is very good on the ball and his technical ability was on show for all to see on Friday. During the match, he completed five key passes, which was more than any other player on the pitch, except Mesut Ozil. In this formation, Xhaka is allowed to be more positive on the ball and Arsenal are benefiting from that. The turnaround wouldn’t have been possible without the midfielder.
Last season, he suffered a lot of criticism for his poor tackling technique and Arsene Wenger is now using him in a role with fewer defensive responsibilities. He attempted only two tackles during the match, with Mohamed Elneny picking up the slack. The concern will be if they switch back to a 4-2-3-1, but in the current set-up, Xhaka’s tackling problems are hidden.
Xhaka can be mostly pleased with his contributions in possession, but he did show poor decision making at times. During the match, he attempted four shots, highlighting his increased involvement in the attacking play. However, a couple of those were poorly judged as they wasted good positions in the opposition third. This will be an area of his game that improves with time.
This performance from the midfielder was an impressive one as he matched his total number of assists from last season in the first match of the new one. His new role suits him more, but Arsenal need to sign a player to complement him in the centre of the park. The balance wasn’t right on Friday and they were left wanting when they didn’t have the ball. They were particularly vulnerable on the counter-attack and that needs to be solved by signing a better partner for the Swiss international.