Granit Xhaka: Profile of Arsenal's first summer signing

Granit Xhaka, Arsenal

Arsenal have confirmed the signing of Granit Xhaka - but what will the man from Borussia Monchengladbach bring?

Xhaka has emerged as one of the Bundesliga's most talented midfielders since his move to Monchengladbach in 2012 but has now sealed a switch to the Emirates on a "long-term contract" for an undisclosed fee.

So just who is the Gunners' first signing of the summer and how might the 'Little Einstein' fit in? We take a look...

Factfile

Name: Granit Xhaka

Age: 23

Place of birth: Basel, Switzerland

Also See:

Position: Midfielder

Paul Pogba vies with Monchengladbach's Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka
Image: Paul Pogba vies with Xhaka in the Champions League

Background

Born in Basel, Switzerland to Kosovo Albanian parents, Xhaka is the younger of two footballing brothers. Both Granit and his older sibling, Taulant Xhaka, came through the ranks at Basel before Granit departed for Gladbach in 2012.

By that stage he had won two Swiss Super League titles and a Swiss Cup, taking home the Young Player of the Year award in 2012 and leading former Basel coach Thorsten Fink to say: "Xherdan Shaqiri is the best talent in Switzerland…after Xhaka."

Image: Xhaka in action at the World Cup against Argentina's Angel Di Maria

The two Swiss starlets had led their country to the U21 European Championship final in 2011, two years after Xhaka helped Switzerland past Neymar's Brazil to win the U17 World Cup in Nigeria.

Xhaka became a full international aged 18, and attracted interest from German clubs as a result, eventually choosing Gladbach, where he swiftly became a key cog in midfield.

He's since taken the captain's armband on occasion in the absence of regular skipper Martin Stranzl, and more than 100 appearances later, is being touted as the potential answer to Arsenal's defensive midfield problems.

Switzerland's midfielder Granit Xhaka reacts during a Group E football match between Switzerland and France at the Fonte Nova Arena
Image: Xhaka helped Switzerland win the 2009 U17 World Cup before stepping up to senior duty

At international level, his decision to play for Switzerland caused controversy, and when he faced Albania in 2014 World Cup qualifying, Xhaka, whose brother chose to represent the country of his parents' birth, was booed throughout.

He wrote an open letter in response but Albania's loss has been Switzerland's gain, with the Gladbach midfielder set to star at Euro 2016 under manager Vladimir Petkovic.

Style of play

One of the jewels of Swiss football since his teenage years, Xhaka's idol was Zinedine Zidane but former national team boss Ottmar Hitzfeld likened him to a "young Schweinsteiger" instead.

Once nicknamed "Little Einstein" due to his passion for science, Xhaka is intelligent in possession, composed on the ball, and keeps things ticking over for Gladbach with an 85 per cent pass completion percentage this season, second best on the team.

Moenchengladbach's Granit Xhaka celebrates
Image: Xhaka [right] celebrates in the Champions League

He consistently ranks in the top 30 Bundesliga players for tackles and interceptions per game, but that combative style has landed him in disciplinary trouble too, with Xhaka leading the league for red cards (three) and second for fouls per game (2.6).

But his all-action approach is one many Arsenal fans feel they lack in central midfield. When they beat Bayern Munich in December, in the words of Xhaka, Gladbach "were the first ones to play three at the back and one v one all over the pitch, forcing Bayern to play long balls."

To do that successfully, manager Andre Schubert placed great faith in his central midfield. At 6ft 1in, Xhaka combines the physical frame and range of passing to hold his own. He's honest too - after a 5-0 drubbing by Bayer Leverkusen the same month, captain Xhaka said: "The performance today was a disaster. The first half was nothing, and the second even less."

Moenchengladbach's Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka (L) and Villarreal's Luciano Vietto
Image: Xhaka [left] and Villarreal's Luciano Vietto

It's not all been plain sailing, then. The midfielder was publicly criticised by Schubert after a poor performance against Hamburg in February. "You could tell he had a break," said the unimpressed manager.

He doesn't score many, just three this season so far, but when he does they're usually stunners. Xhaka has won Gladbach's Goal of the Year each of the last two years, first for his free-kick against Villarreal in the Europa League in 2014, and last year for his derby winner against Cologne.

How would he fit in at Arsenal?

Xhaka would likely slot into central midfield and could perhaps be the first-team replacement to Francis Coquelin, or even Mohamed Elneny, who only joined the club in January.

Francis Coquelin
Image: Could Francis Coquelin's position at the club come under threat?

Interestingly, Xhaka joked in January that he would like to take the number 34 shirt away from Coquelin.

When asked by Monchengladbach's club magazine what he would do if Arsenal wanted to sign him with his shirt number 34 already occupied by Coquelin, he replied: "It was also like that at Gladbach, with Amin Younes. And at Arsenal Coquelin has it."

Xhaka then joked Coquelin would take another shirt number. He said: "Yes, I've spoken with him, he would like to take another number (laughs)."

What they say

"It depends a bit on our own sporting success, it depends on Granit's own performances and of course it depends on the figures," Gladbach's sporting director Max Eberl told WDR 2 radio earlier this year. "If they reach a certain dimension, then you could get dizzy. There are always situations in which every club would have to make considerations."

Switzerland boss Ottmar Hitzfeld looks on during the World Cup game against Ecuador
Image: Ottmar Hitzfeld said he believes Xhaka has 'a great career' ahead of him

Former Bayern Munich and Switzerland manager Hitzfeld said: "Bayern need players with a strong self-confidence. Xhaka certainly has the quality to prevail at Bayern. I am convinced that he still has a great career ahead of him. He is a leader, a player who is responsible and self-confident."

On sealing Xhaka's signature, Gunners boss Arsene Wenger said: "Granit Xhaka is an exciting young player, already with good Champions League and Bundesliga experience. We have been watching him for a long time now and he is a player who will add quality to our squad."

What he says

In February, Xhaka said: "Everybody has a dream. Everybody has a childhood dream and that's mine [to play in the Premier League]. If it comes true, it remains to be seen. At the moment I cannot say how realistic it is."

After sealing his move, Xhaka told Arsenal's official website: "I'm very proud to be joining Arsenal. I cannot wait to move to London, represent this special club and play in the Premier League. I will give everything to help Arsenal win trophies and make the fans happy."

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