Granit Xhaka has played more passes into the final third this season than any other outfield player, proving his worth to Arsenal alongside midfield partner Lucas Torreira.
Squawka Football tweeted out the stat this week, with Xhaka top of the list on 197 passes, and the nearest competitors 30 passes behind:
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
The statistic is particularly impressive because Xhaka isn’t top of the league for total attempted passes, placing fifth in that list behind Aymeric Laporte, Jorginho, Antonio Rudiger and Virgil van Dijk. Despite playing fewer passes, he’s still playing more of the passes that matter, moving the play forward and starting attacks.
It’s no wonder Arsenal miss him when he’s out of the team, and it’s easy to see why Arsene Wenger and Unai Emery made the Swiss International a key part of their teams.
Of course, under Wenger Arsenal struggled from the fact that Xhaka was isolated defensively. The likes of Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere didn’t provide much cover alongside him, which caused the team problems at the back.
It’s a completely different story with Lucas Torreira, and to an extent Matteo Guendouzi as well. Both are strong at tackling and making interceptions, meaning some of the pressure is taken off Xhaka to defend. Instead, he can focus on finding those incisive forward passes that the team need from him. Let’s hope that continues.