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Xhaka’s Roles With Switzerland And Arsenal In Comparison

Arsenal fans used to see Granit Xhaka pushing further forward in 2022, but in his national team Switzerland, he is still making his reinvention.

Mikel Arteta first allowed the midfielder to participate in attacks at the backend of the last season. As a result, he has shone in the Premier League on this team. However, the Swiss’s lack of agility and mobility initially turned him into a square peg in a round hole in his role.

“I wouldn’t say ‘comfortable’ but sometimes you have to take players from their comfort zone and open a different door to explore what the team will react like (and) what the opposition will do,” Arteta revealed in March as being asked about what made him comfortable with making the tweak.

He has evolved into a nuisance for Arsenal’s Premier League rivals since then, with one of his most menacing performances coming against Aston Villa in August.

Alarming signs were evident within minutes of kick-off that evening as he let Albert Sambi Lokonga’s pass run through to Gabriel Martinelli…

Source: Theathletic

Before making his untracked run beyond the Villa defense into the channel.

Source: Theathletic

Martinelli decided to make a cross this time and it was a sign of what would happen later. Arsenal ran the exact passage of play later in the half, with Kieran Tierney managing to find Martinelli out wide and Xhaka making his run into the free space behind the Villa midfield.

Source: Theathletic

Untracked for another time, he was 1) Arsenal’s furthest-forward man as Martinelli played him in, and 2) in acres of space.

Source: Theathletic

His brilliantly cross or shot took a nick on its way to Emi Martinez, whose fumble was buried by Gabriel Jesus.

Xhaka’s movements have been among many pillars of Arsenal’s strength in the early of this season. Switzerland coach Murat Yakin gaining access to that for this World Cup is fascinating given he was utilizing the 30-year-old as his deepest-lying midfielder as recently as this summer in the Nations League.

Although he has often set to be freer when playing for Switzerland at major tournaments, Xhaka has often been their “quarterback”. Even though they have taken advantage of a back three or a back four (which seemed to be a three anyway), he was the player to pick up the ball deep and distribute to wing-backs who are considered to push up.  Ricardo Rodriguez on the left flank was the most familiar target, though, Kevin Mbabu gives him a decent outlet on the right as he starts.

Below is how that looked at Euro 2016 when he picked up the ball from the back line…

Source: Theathletic

And picked out Rodriguez who succeeded in having a free corner, from which Fabian Schar scored.

Source: Theathletic

There was another perspective on that dynamic at the 2018 World Cup as Valon Behrami dropped down to the backline to form a trio, leaving Xhaka alone in midfield before finding Rodriguez.

Source: Theathletic

Source: Theathletic

Xhaka just needed to have an impact on the final third with clipped crosses from the left half-space, which have given a few assists or arriving very late to complete moves.

In the World Opener against Cameroon, he provided a much bigger presence further forward. Still, this is not a case of a straightforward copy and pasted from club to national team.

His willingness to run beyond his marker was obvious from the early of the match and a few similarities started to happen. Thanks to at least five players in an attack, he could run forward to bring Arsenal more opportunities in deploying an attack. This could also grow to six if a full-back gets involved, but encountering teams who play with four defenders and with third-man runs hard to contain anyway, it always lets somebody free.

Switzerland can not play the similar approach as Arsenal and does not have the same quality across their front line. However, we can find out that trend crop up as they reached those areas.

Originally, Xhaka is in that advanced space, telling Manuel Akenji to run with the ball.

Source: Theathletic

The center-back plays a key pass into Breel Embolo who has Xhaka and Djibril Sow around him.

Source: Theathletic

He chose to go wide to Xherdan Shaquri, but he, Xhaka, and Sow keep running into the box while Ruben Vargas comes into the play from the left too. Shaquiri’s attempt is blocked, but Switzerland has five players in their attack and pushes a free man to the back post.

Source: Theathletic

Xhaka burst into spaces as this all matches but just was not successfully operated.

When he became a target for an aerial ball which he managed to cushion down to a surrounding teammate, and at others, he turned into a free man during a free-flowing attack. In this case, it was likely that his national team teammates still felt accustomed to having him as an option in those areas, with the most blatant instance coming just after the hour mark.

Embolo had managed to retrieve the ball in the final third. Vargas and Xhaka were supposed to a support role, with Shaqiri as an extra man. Embolo somehow found the link with Vargas but in his split-second choice, the winger’s decision to attempt and finish the move himself as the pass was the much better option.

Source: Theathletic

These moments might litter the match, but be not overly troublesome. It will not be a surprise if Xhaka handles more passes when in those positions than he did in the match against Cameroon.

“He’s (Arteta) putting me in the positions where I have freedom, where I have the game in front of me. This is what I like. I don’t like the game with my back to the opponent’s goal; I like to see the whole game in front of me,” he said in February 2021 on Arteta using him more as a ‘quarterback’.

This is how he was amazed at Switzerland’s late rally against France in Euro 2020. Forward runners took blue shirts away from him and he had time to pick out a pass to assist Mario Gavranovic.

Source: Theathletic

Interestingly, more trademark Xhaka involvement was present in the build-up for Switzerland’s winner against Cameroon. Quick play from Rodriguez and Vargas got him the ball in space halfway and he had time to find the open man in a flowing attack.

Source: Theathletic

While some aspects of his game will never leave, Switzerland using the precious time they have ahead of their next group games against Brazil and Serbia to recognize and exploit his new attributes could be crucial.

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