For all of Arsenal’s activity over the summer, many expected a fully refreshed XI but alas some old culprits still survived and some popular faces now sit on the bench.
Arsenal fans are among the most opinionated set of fans and a burning debate of late is Emery’s prolonged trust in captain Granit Xhaka.
The Swiss is easily the most divisive figure among the Arsenal fanbase and a lot of Gunners seem to disagree on whether he not he deserves a place in the Arsenal squad yet alone the captain armband.
Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka made a formidable pair when the Uruguayan first completed his move to Arsenal last summer. However, recent tweaks from Unai Emery have shown that he’ll now much prefer to play one of both defensive-minded midfielders rather than both of them together.
A section of the Arsenal supporters now believe Lucas Torreira should be preferred to make the starting lineup under Unai Emery after scoring a late consolation goal during the 3-1 Premier League defeat at Liverpool.
For the final 30 minutes, Torreira was afforded with a role off the bench in the place of Dani Ceballos, and he produced a good performance where he showed the intent going forward.
While it can be argued that the hosts were controlling the game, Torreira nonetheless bagged the consolation strike with five minutes left on the clock and that has impressed a few of the club’s faithful.
With that in mind, who should be getting the nod?
This statistical analysis compares the stats of both players from last season and who will be a better option for Unai Emery.
Both players have a good eye for a tackle and are closely matched in this context.
Granit Xhaka averaged 1.8 tackles, 1.2 interceptions and 1.9 clearances per 90 minutes which is “variably” the same with Torreira at 1.9 tackles and 1.2 interceptions per game.
Although the Uruguayan just falls quite short of Xhaka’s clearances at only 0.9 per game.
A defensive midfielder’s ability to remain composed in the face of a tackle or duel is what makes him stand out and it is for this reason that Torreira tops this aspect overall.
Torreira is a more organized tackler and doesn’t make unnecessary rash tackles that puts his team in danger. A look at the stats below will show Xhaka’s shortcomings on that.
Granit Xhaka has been booked more times (12) than any other player in the Premier League since the start of last season.
Arsenal bingo. ⚠️ pic.twitter.com/1mRafmRZX6
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 18, 2018
Xhaka’s bookings come from mistimed tackles and those wrong tackles means he gives away unnecessary fouls. It’s no wonder he gave an average of 1.6 fouls per game which is, of course, higher than that of Torreira at 1.1 per 90 minutes.
Perhaps now we know why Arsenal were the team in the top six to concede the most from corner kicks and set pieces (free-kicks as well).
Also, the certain assurance that Xhaka is in line for a yellow card in each game puts unnecessary anxiety on his concentration levels.
No doubt for stability and reliability in a defensive setup, Torreira is the better midfielder.
The Swiss international makes up for his defensive blunders in this aspect. His 1 shot and 1.4 key passes per 90 minutes is greater than that of Torreira at 0.8 shots and a noticeably lower 0.8 key passes per game.
The Uruguayan also gets dispossessed off the ball more than Xhaka as his 0.8 average per game was higher than that of the Arsenal captain at 0.6 per game.
All but shows that Xhaka seems to pay more attention going forward than to his defensive responsibilities.
If you need one of both midfielders to knock the ball around efficiently, Xhaka is definitely your guy.
Torreira’s 46.8 passes per game and 84.7% pass accuracy pales significantly to Xhaka’s 77.4 passes and 85.3% pass accuracy.
Moving forward, Xhaka’s eye for a final pass or pass leading to a goal makes him very efficient in the team’s build-up play.
Most passes into the final third in the Premier League this season by outfield players:
• Granit Xhaka (197)
• Fernandinho (167)
• Rúben Neves (167)
• Jorginho (163)
Chief distributors. ? pic.twitter.com/yLK9iBc1eY
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 11, 2018
Xhaka is most definitely a better option going forward but it does beg the question of his role – after all he’s supposed to be a “defensive” midfielder.
Xhaka’s lapse of concentration
Xhaka’s tendency to always cost the team at least a goal per match doesn’t speak well of him. It doesn’t help that he’s the captain either and a captain should set the pace by leading by example.
One example other Arsenal players will not like to take after Xhaka for is that in the stat below.
Granit Xhaka has now made more errors leading to goals in the Premier League (5) than any other outfield player since the start of last season.
Awful clearance. ? pic.twitter.com/H0pORtXJHW
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 12, 2019
And if you think that’s bad enough for a captain, it gets worse.
Granit Xhaka has now given away four penalties in the Premier League since joining Arsenal in summer 2016, more than any other player has conceded for a single team in that timeframe.
Guilty again. ⚠️ pic.twitter.com/F348JDuCrA
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 5, 2019
No much words needed but stating the obvious that his momentary lapses in concentrations have cost Arsenal a lot of disappointment and judging by how frequently he does them, it seems to be something he can’t control anymore.
Granit Xhaka is a “natural” leader and that has been very evident in the course of his career.
At 26, he has captained his former side Borrusia Mönchengladbach and is currently captain of Arsenal, his current side.
On the international scene, he is the current captain of his national side Switzerland as well.
No doubt asides the technical aspect of the game, he is a big impact wherever he goes.
Granit Xhaka on a good day can be one of the most elite midfielders in his category but for a steady reliance, he just doesn’t cut it.
Also the fact that he’s more offensive-minded means he would not be deeply missed as Emery has a whole lot of other attacking-minded midfielders to call upon.
What Torreira offers though, it’s safe to say no other Arsenal midfielder comes close – in terms of his defensive grit.
While Xhaka’s leadership abilities can not be ignored, a disorganized defence is the Gunners main problem and Torreira will be a better shield in front of the defence than the current Arsenal captain.