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June 2021

Arsenal I v Swansea. Should Xhaka be dropped because of misdirected passes?

by Bulldog Drummond

“There remains a sense of gloom around the Emirates but the Gunners have lost just once in their last 11 matches in all competitions and beat Norwich 2-1 in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday night.”

So says the Metro picking up on our bit of maths as it gives us the latest update on how things are going at Arsenal.

Which seems a trifle strange given that so far this season Arsenal have played four league games at the Emirates, two League Cup games also at the Ems, and one Europa game at the same place.  That is seven games if my maths does not let me down (always something of a presumption but I have a new calculator so there is hope).

Seven games.  And the results are, oh, well, now let me work this out.  Won seven, lost nil, drawn nil.  Goals for in the league 11, three against.  Another three in the League Cup, one against, and another three in the Europa, one against.  17 Arsenal goals, five against.  “A sense of gloom around the Emirates.”

Hmmmm.  More likely a sense of gloom around the Arsenal-knocking factories, and a growing desperation that their narrative about Xhaka might be coming unstuck now we’ve bothered to look at it.

Indeed the Xhakarian narrative has changed a little following our statistical revelations about his touch and pass rate, so we are now getting, “With Granit Xhaka still flattering to deceive during his second season in north London, it’s surely time to give Wilshere the nod from the start.”  And that is a possibility I guess, although not because of the flattering to deceive notion.

After Untold’s piece about Xhaka not being the prize dunce of the Premier League, what with him having that very high number of touches and passes in league games, and with figures taken from the official Premier League statistics logs, the comment was made that Untold’s approach was all nonsense because Xhaka had made “576 accurate short passes and 106 inaccurate short passes,”  So 106 inaccurate short passes out of 682 short passes.  That’s an 85 percent accuracy rate on short passes.

Two questions arise from this.  First are these figures accurate – which normally means do they come from a source that might be likely to be accurate, such as the Premier League’s official figures?  And then, how do they compare with other players in the league who make this many passes?

The storyline that has developed about Xhaka is well summed up in this extract…

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“The 24-year-old, a £35 million addition last summer, struggled for the majority of his first season in North London and did, in truth, look like a waste of money at the best of times.  But at Wembley, [in the Community Shield]  Xhaka showed why the notoriously-frugal Wenger spent so much on him.

“The Swiss was excellent in Arsenal’s midfield and, according to, Xhaka managed 106 touches – more than any other player on the pitch – as he found the sort of control that he has been searching for since joining.

“In addition to that, the former Borussia Monchengladbach ace finished the 90 minutes with a passing accuracy of 90%, while also managing to create four chances – one of which was the assist for Kolasinac’s equaliser.”

That sort of commentary (which comes from HITC) and which cites WhoScored, which seems to be a reliable source, (or at least does provide us with figures which can be checked against other sources) seems to belie the notion of a bumbling buffoon who touches the ball a lot but only to give it to the opposition.

But we might notice the number 106 coming up again – a coincidence?  Possibly, but also maybe the source of a misunderstanding over the numbers.  So under orders from the Untold hierarchy I plunged on.

Going elsewhere I found Squwaka had an analysis of an accuracy rate of 82% of Xhaka’s passes in the first eight matches of the season, with an average pass length of 19m.  Now there is no way that 19m can be considered short passes.  19m is a little under half the width of the pitch.  So if Xhaka is getting 82% accuracy over those longer passes it seems suggestive that he is going to be above 85% for shorter passes.

Another commentary I found came from “Arsenal station”,  which had this on 6 August 2017: Granit Xhaka vs Chelsea: 106 touches 90% pass accuracy (81/90 completed) 4 key passes 1 assist 3 clearances 1 shot. MOTM.”  That backs up the HITC commentary and again belies the buffoon notion so beloved of the papers and non-statistical bloggettas.

Here’s another one,

“19 Mar 2017 – Granit Xhaka vs. WBA: 117 passes 91% pass accuracy 4 aerial duels 3 blocks 2 interceptions 6 ball recoveries 2 chances created.”

So these numbers seem to suggest that Xhaka was not a man last season who touched the ball a lot but is highly inaccurate.  Rather the opposite.  More importantly however our correspondent’s figures don’t turn up anywhere that I could find on the internet, and no source was provided by the writer, although Tony did write back and ask for one.   It is possible that Xhaka has a pass success rate of 85% as our correspondent says, but rather than this being appalling as he suggests, with an average range of just under half the width of the pitch, that is not at all bad.  For his average pass length to be that high it means Xhaka is taking on quite a large number of passes that are akin to 75% of the width of the pitch, (passes that are worth the risk of going astray because where they work they open up a defence) and still keeping up his accuracy levels.

So for now I am staying with my view that the anti-Xhaka approach is just another anti-Arsenal outburst without the proper use of proper statistics from a source that we might find believable.

He’s thus worthy of his position in the team, and the only reason for dropping him and giving Jack a game is … to give Jack a start in the PL with Xhaka coming on in the second half.

More anon.

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26 comments to Arsenal I v Swansea. Should Xhaka be dropped because of misdirected passes?

  • Chris


    I agree with what you write and believe Xhaka is being ‘bullied’. Yet there are a few stats I’d be interested in seeing igf they exist, so as to give a more complete picture : number of lost balls (like on the Norwich goal) and lost/missed tackles and or recoveries. That would give a better picture. And whe loss/recovery ratio would show the few losses are compensated by all the recoveries. I have no idea if such stats exist.

  • WalterBroeckx

    After Jack having played more than 100 minutes this week I don’t think it would be a good idea to put him in the starting line up at all! And next Thursday we have to play Red Star Belgrade again so he will have another match to play.

  • Andre

    how about number of balls lost that led to goal. Get that stat. No one doubts his assets but his liability might be way much heavier.

  • Chris

    I believe it is time the Ramsey-Ozil-Lacazette-Sanchez quartet to get regular game time now that all are healthy. They need to gel and become more dangerous. Nothing to do with Jack’s talents, just seems like this would be the normal way to go.

  • Andre, if you believe that figure might be of some value, why don’t you do the research, rather than just issuing instructions for others to do your bidding?

  • Vivek Arulnathan

    Tony…..I am the one who posted the stats that you have mentioned here. Sorry I didn’t link to the stats. Funnily enough, it was from Whoscored. The same website referred here.

    As for comparison, I did look at the passing rates of deep lying midfielders from the rest of the big 6 teams. Could hardly find anyone with a 82.5 pass success rate.

    Pogba 86.3%
    Matic 88.5
    Fernandihino 90.8
    Dier 87.1
    Henderson 79
    Kante 85.6
    Fabregas 82.7. Fabregas is a very interesting comparison. He plays a deeper role and is primarily in the team for his skills with the ball. Something you said was what Xhaka is good at. With the ball. While Fab has a similar pass completion rate, a look at his key passes reveals a lot. Fabregas averages 3 key passes per game. Xhaka averages just over one key passes per game, 1.3 to be precise. I am not saying both play similar roles but given Xhaka has very average defensive numbers(check out Whoscored again), his output on the ball really needs to improve.

    And Wilshere is not the answer btw.

  • Grandad

    As in any walk of life eg crime figures, stats can be completely misleading.As fans we need to focus on what we see, not what is reported by the media ,pundits etc.From what I’ve seen like Deabuchy and Mustafi Xhaka is a bang average footballer.End of story

  • Grandad you have a common sense view of the game – that you can look at it and draw valid conclusions from it. That is a view that many people have and is one shared by most pundits on TV, radio etc.

    However it is just one view. The other view is that you need analysis. The reason for this view is that if you take the common sense view of life you might end up believing that the sun goes round the earth, because you see it every day, that gravity does not exist, because you can’t see it, that the earth is flat, because common sense tells you so, and that sticking a load of gas into a cylinder opening a tiny nozzle at one end and setting fire to the gas and expecting the container to fly is the wackiest thing in the world. Or perhaps, as the old saying goes, is rocket science. Which oddly is about the simplest bit of science that there is.

  • Richard

    Well whatever the stats say, I think we can say if this front three gel as well as they did against Everton we are going to see stats broke week in week out.
    Surely there is an over reliance on analysis to see whether a team has performed well. Isn’t it about enjoying a Saturday/Sunday match with your mates watching a beautiful game of football in amazing surroundings yes a win is most desirable and enjoyable. But, surely just being out with friends being in the moment is what it’s about

  • Nitram


    Do you think putting ‘bang’ in front of a statement makes it more credible, or are you just letting us all know you’re a cockney geezer?

    Either way you’re ‘bang’ out of order.

    See, I can do it as well.

  • John L

    We have a strong squad, which allows for rotation. It therefore does not follow that players who are not in the starting eleven are crap. Whilst there may be a prospect that Jack may start in the forthcoming games, it does not have to be because the player he replaces, whether Xhaka or anyone else, is crap.

  • Nitram


    Some great sentiments.

    But the problem is, without stats you have nothing but opinion, and frankly opinion without evidence is nothing, just opinion.

    An analogy:

    One ‘expert’ can say the economy is doing well, whilst one can say the economy is doing badly.

    They are both just opinions, so therefore both have, or lack, credibility equally.

    The only way to know who is correct is to hear the evidence, to see the statistics, and to know the facts.

    Now of course we hear the argument that statistics can be ‘made to say what you want’ but that is only true to a degree. Usually this is done by using only very small quantities of data, or only choosing to use selective data.

    The way to counteract this is to use more, not less data, and a broader, not narrower, range of data. Just as Tony and Vivek are attempting to do I think, which I’m finding very interesting.

    Doing that makes manipulating the data and drawing erroneous conclusions much more difficult.

    So to give an opinion credibility you must have statistics, and to give statistics credibility you must have as many as possible, not less.

    So if one ‘expert’ can show, using statistics that:

    -The economy is growing.

    -Inflation is stable.

    -Manufacturing is increasing.

    -Borrowing is down.

    -Unemployment is low.

    He has a ‘strong’ argument.

    My contention is, that no matter how dubious you are about ‘statistics’ you are far more likely to be convinced of an argument should someone bring those kind of statistics to the table than by them just telling you that, ‘in there opinion’ the economy is failing.

    Also, in this analogy, how you FEEL about the economy is irrelevant to the ‘fact’ as well. Just because you are happy with ‘your lot’, does not have any relevance to whether the economy overall, is doing well or badly.

    Similarly, an individual just saying that Xhaka is great, or Xhaka is crap, simply on the basis of what they ‘see with there own eyes’ is pretty irrelevant as well.

    My point of all this is that, love them or hate them, statistics are the best indicator of a players performance, which is why football, footballers, Sportsman/women, sport in general and business are all judged on masses and masses of statistics.

    I know what I see with my own eyes, and what I think I see is that Xhaka is a very good midfielder. Not brilliant.

    I think what I see with my own eyes is that he attempts some difficult passes and as such gives the ball away on occasion.

    I think what I see is that he perhaps tries these passes in dangerous situations which mean when he does give it away the opposition are quickly onto an exposed back four/keeper.

    One thing I’m sure I don’t see is the rubbish player that some are suggesting he is.

    What will those dastardly statistics finally show us.

  • Jax

    I can’t figure out what Xhaka’s role in the team actually is.
    Is he a defensive mid….if so he regularly exposes the central defenders to quick forwards who get passed him too easily.
    Is he box to box…….in this role he’s more creative in his forward play but slow to get back and fouls opposition players who’ve taken the space he vacated in central midfield.
    In both roles he regularly gets turned over & offers goal scoring chances to other teams, but IMO he might be more successful in a 4-4-2 system where he has an extra defensive mid alongside.
    In his defence his tackling has improved to the extent that he no longer slides in on players getting yellow & red cards, and yes his passing is decent enough but is he in the team for that reason?
    Granit’s not the midfield general people were predicting he would be. But where are those type of players anyway?
    I think we should make the best of him while he’s here (for however long that will be).

  • Ozed

    As far as the popular press is concerned most of the players playing for arsenal are crap, at various times that has included Walcott, Ramsey, Xhaka, Mustafi, Iwobi, Couquelin, Belerin etc. Oh and by the way the Manager is also crap. In spite of that the club only just missed out on top four last season, and has won silverware in 3 of the last 4 years.

    And by the way since we are talking about Xhaka, my view on the loss of possession leading to the Everton goal (@Chris am sure you meant Everton since Xhaka did not play against Norwich) is that Xhaka was fouled by Gueye, as there was contact with xhaka’s foot before any contact with the ball!!

  • Samuel Akinsola Adebosin

    Koscielny Mertesacker Monreal
    Bellerin Ramsey Xhaka Kolasinac
    Oil Lacazette Sanchez.

    Macey Coquelin Wilshere Walcott Giroud Holding Iwobi.

    The above starts and bench were the starts & bench Le Prof used in executing the last Arsenal PL away match at Everton to a big success last Sunday to the level of scoring 5 away goals in the Premier League this season. Whereas period to their Everton match, the Gunners have struggled with scoring goals in 4 PL matches at away to Stoke, Liverpool, Chelsea and Watford where they could only succeeded in scoring twice.

    Taking Le Prof’s remarkable match result success against Everton in the PL as a breakthrough catalyst for strong team building which Le Prof has for the first time this season succeeded at doing finally in Arsenal Premier League away games after fielding different teams but to no success in previous 4 away matches. I think wisdom should inform him to soft pedal in doing unnecessary changes to his above starts and bench he made for the Everton match which was his strongest done so far made by him this season. But continue with these starts and bench by giving this particular 18 man Gunners team the chance to continuing playing games in the PL without doing any changes to them, save if it becomes unavoidable. So that he’ll:see if they can grow stronger and stronger to become a formidable Arsenal game starting winning team both at home and away.

    Therefore, let Le Prof subject these same starts and bench he used for the last Everton match to further test by employing the starts and the bench in playing our home PL match against Swansea City on Saturday. In which if the starts and the bench perform very well in number of goals scored as they did at Everton, Le Prof will be encouraged he has a formidable team on his hands he can confront Man City with next upper week and beat them at the Etihad in the PL.

    I don’t think there is need for Le Prof to start Mustafi for Swansea if the back three consisting of: Mert’ Koscielny and Monreal are to start in the match are available and strong to start. For, this this could cause confusion in the team. Mert’ has been playing very well since Mustafi got sidelined. Therefore, to me, Mustafi should be biding for his time on the bench until such a time when something happens that will make him start in the PL again which could make him regain his regular starting place. But for now, he can start in the Red Star game at the Ems next Thursday night’s to give Mert’ a game rest.

  • John L

    Plus he was dragged back by the arm by the Everton player.

    Interesting how pundits can say “there was contact, but not enough for a foul”, on the one hand and “yes, there was contact, he was entitled to go down”on the other.

    I suppose it depends whether the “contact” is on or by an Arsenal player

  • Chris


    I stand corrected and yes, I was referring to the Everton game.
    And you hit it right on, as when a foul goes against Arsenal it is not one and if once one is given for Arsenal, the referee is crap…

    As far ai I am concerned, I want to see more of the Xhaka-Ramsey pairing. They will grow together and be a formidable midfield force. And having in front of them the SLO forward line, that can, and this is an interesting perspective, play in different positions (OSL, LSO, etc.) and they need that midfield pairing.

    But then again, who am I to know. There are so many specialists for whom all these players are just crap. Makes one wonder why they do not support another club with a far better line-up and manager

  • Jax

    People support the club of their choice for life, have an opinion and don’t switch just to accommodate better players.

  • Chris


    Respectfully, I was being a little ironic.
    To me support means you stand behind a team. Ripping apart this or that player, and worse doing it in sync with the blogettas, is not support to me.

    Do you believe that doing this is going to make any player better ? Can the player be changed/exchanged easily ?
    The team has to ‘fight’ with the available players. None of us can chage the line-up and I don’t see a day where we’ll have Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar in the front line…

    Ripping them apart will not change anything for the better.

    Support is different to me. Support is the 12th man around the team, raising their spirits, chanting, encouraging, like UK supporters were (ok a few decadeas ago) admired for all over the world.

    Sorry, but it gets to a point where I get fed up with so-called supporters who’d love another defeat to prove their point that this or that player is crap. And who have absolutely no respect for the human being the players are. In the end, it’s like this Everton supported hitting a player with his kid in his arms.

  • Jax

    Ok, fair enough, but people have been given a forum here and a provocative article most days, so it’s hardly surprising that they have so many varying opinions.
    The ‘support another team’ is one of the most annoying retorts I see on football blogs. I’ve been called Xenophobic recently (probably with cause) so here I go again. This nearly always comes from overseas ‘fans’ (particularly here) who know nothing of the UK football supporting culture. Don’t know where you’re from so I’m not including you in this, but I feel that they have a more flexible approach to team support.

  • Josif

    The title is interesting, especially if we remember how the forthcoming fixture panned out last season.

    We took a two-goal lead thanks to Walcott’s brace. Then Xhaka lost the ball not far away from our penalty box and Sigurdsson narrowed our lead to one with a similar strike to Rooney’s.

    In the second half, Alexis made a superb pass for Mesut’s umpteenth volley to make it 3:1. Then we conceded one through Borja Bastos before Xhaka got sent off for a dangerous tackle on Moudou Barrow, the best Swansea player on the day. Barrow was taken off very soon because of injury. We hanged onto the lead with ten men (because that’s what spineless, leaderless kings of capitulation usually do) and won the game. That was the last league game Santi Cazorla played for us before his injury against Ludogorets in Champions League.

    Xhaka is not a poor player. After all, we have played 5 games against Chelsea since his arrival and lost just the one in which Xhaka didn’t play due to red card against Burnley. However, he is still not on the level Arsenal need him to be to win the league. He loses the ball/misplaces pass in the dangerous area too often (he is the only player in the league which errors have led to more than one goal this season). I thought he’d be our Petit (given his height, weight and great left foot) but he still doesn’t have the defensive quality of the Frenchman. Of course, Petit was 27 when he joined Arsenal and was a defender who was used as a defensive midfielder by Arsene who had worked with Petit during their days in AS Monaco.

    I wanted a ball-winning midfielder to join Arsenal last summer as I think someone like Gueye or Krychowiak would provide enough protection for Xhaka and nullify mistakes Xhaka makes with his passes. That would open a lot of questions though: where would Ramsey play, what our starting formation would be, what would that mean for Özil, Alexis and Lacazette etc, etc.

  • Chris


    As life has it, I come from many places and support teams in different countries….and in different sports. And I do not think you are Xenophobic in your statement, I’d even say it makes sense to me. I lived in Wisconsin, and there, it is all for the NFL Green Bay Packers. I’d even call it ‘patriotic’ support.

    I’ve seen support in many countries, but what it had in common was : stand behind you team, not stab you team(members) from behind.

    I am amazed at the flak players and managers are taking, at the violence that them not being what some (so-called) supporters expect can unleash. At the lact of basic human respect that is being revealed. The Everton scene the other day is exactly that. I mean, if he’d had a knife or gun would he have stabbed or shot ? I cannot fathom what goes on in such a person’s mind. And then he justifies it by the fact that he should not have been able to get so close.

    To me supporting a team is going there with my kids like Dad used to go with us, having the memories of the great games, the chants, the roar that follows the goal and the shared elation at the last minute victory. Most losses fade with time. But it is not about getting angry at the team I support or wanting to get violent.

    Remember the trashing of Brazil by Germany ? Well the true supporters what were they doing ? Crying. Respect. Can’t remember reading about or seing riots….

  • Goonermikey

    @ Jax 10:53

    Whether or not you can “figure out what Xhaka’s role in the team actually is” is of no relevance particularly since (and I’m only guessing) that your’re not a professional, experienced, qualified, world class football manager. The fact is that AW is all of those things so I’m happy that he knows what Xhaka’s role is. Whether you, me, Lineker, Shearer, Lawrenson, Wright, Henry, Amy Lawrence or next door’s dog can figure it out is of no value to anybody.

    I don’t intend any disrespect but what if Mr Wenger knows what his role is supposed to be and he fulfills that role, it’s good enough for me and I certainly do not have any of the requisite attributes to contradict this.

  • Jax

    Actually, my opinion (and that is all it is) is of some relevance because that it what the article is about…. Xhaka and his role in the team.
    This is another of those provocative articles that Tony regularly throws up because he must know it will get differing responses (AKA click bait) and as he’s put it here twice in two days he must be quite confident of it, so direct your comments to him rather than trolling me for an honest opinion.
    And of course you’re correct I’m not a ‘world class football manager’, so full marks for getting something right today.

  • Rosicky@Arsenal

    With koeman sacked i am thinking what will be the AAA idiots at Legroan and online gooner etc will be upto. Koeman was there prefered candidate to replace Wenger.
    What a bunch of deluded so called fans.

  • Jax

    I like our approach of having two squads for PL & Europa/League Cup, but Man U obviously had the Europe competition more highly prioritised and in the event they were proved correct by winning it quite easily.
    I would imagine that (as you suggest) we’ll put stronger sides out as we progress. The strain on the squad will become apparent when the FA Cup starts (even thought the League Cup is mostly over by then).
    I really think we could win this event.