Do we need Xhaka. Why does he get so many cards? Or actually, does he?



By Tony Attwood

Most days, you’ll find someone in the media or on a blog complaining about Xhaka and saying Arsenal have to get rid of him.  Personally, when I watch him at a match, I don’t see what  the problem is.  He is a tackling midfielder – and these are the guys who pick up the cards.   But really is he the disaster on legs that the media (and their followers) proclaim him to be?

I began to wonder about this as I contemplated the simple fact that last season Manchester United committed just under 100 more fouls than Arsenal.   And yet despite that simple fact the story continues that Granit Xhaka is the most appalling awful fouling player in the league.   

Yet we have him in the team and don’t give away that many fouls – at least not compared to most clubs – and we have shown that here over and over and over again.  In fact last season, we were pretty much bottom of the league for fouls and cards.  So really, is all this anti-Xhakerian stuff true?

I decided to look a bit further into this.   And wouldn’t you know it?   Looking at the number of cards he gets season by season it is a complete load of cobblers.  But lets go back just a bit and see how this works.

All Premier League clubs have a player who is there to put the tackle in midfield to break up attacks before the defenders get involved.  These are the defensive midfielders who are adept at moving, and mostly fairly adept at tackling.  Their job is to stop the forward getting the shot in, so given the speed they are moving at, things can and do go wrong.

Now I have already pointed out on this site how the CIES Football Observatory which rates players on a match-by-match basis by “taking into account the pitch production and efficiency at both individual and collective level” (methodology) while using data from OptaPro rated Xhaka the second best player in their final monthly analysis last season.  That shows player rankings for games played at big-5 league level.

We also know that player form comes and goes, for Nicolas Pépé also got stunning rankings at the end of last season but has lost it all again but I would argue Granit Xhaka’s 93.7% continued up to his injury and has been picked up again thereafter.

But against this is the notion that Xhaka the worst player for fouling – an utter liability.  So  looking at yellow card awards recently what I found was that:

In 2020/21 the most yellow carded player in the league with 12 cards in 37 games was McGinn of Aston Villa.  That gave him 3.08 games per card. Xhaka had 7 cards in 31 games making it 4.43 games per card.    

But maybe last season was a one-off.   So let’s go back further.  In 2019/20 top of the yellow card tree with 10 cards in 25 games was Frello of Chelsea (2.5 games per card). Xhaka got seven cards in 22 games (3.14 games per card).  So Frello was 31% worse than Xhaka at the task of tackling.

2018/19 saw top spot for 15 yellows in 33 was claimed by Capouee of Watford 2.2 games per card. Xhaka’s ranking was 10 in 29, or 2.9 games per card.  Nothing like the rankings of the worst offenders.

2017/18 was similar with Murray of Brighton being the worst offender with 8 yellows in 27 games making 3.37 games per card.  Xhaka got six cards in 31 games, 5.17 games per card.

And just one more set of data before you fall asleep with me proving the same situation over and over again.  In 2016/17 top of the table was Holeba of Watford with 14 cards in 33 games, which is 2.36 games per card.  Xhaka achieved five cards in 32. 6.4 games per card.

So he is not remotely as bad as many players in the league.  And to give a final fuller perspective, last season saw numerous players get yellow cards on average in fewer games than Xhaka.

The players are listed in the order of the number of cards they got (column three).  But the key column is the last one.  How many games per yellow card did the player average?

12 players who played 24+ games in the Premier League picked up yellow cards more frequently than Xhaka last season.  And since clubs need a player undertaking this role that put Xhaka in among the average position for players of that type.  Not the walking disaster area that some suggest.

Player Name / club Games Played Yellow Card Games per card
John McGinn  Aston Villa 37 12 3.08
Harry Maguire  Manchester United 34 11 3.09
Conor Gallagher  West Bromwich Albion 30 11 2.72
Kalvin Phillips  Leeds United 29 10 2.90
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg  Tottenham Hotspur 38 9 4.42
Mason Holgate  Everton 28 9 3.11
Hector Bellerin  Arsenal 25 8 3.12
Isaac Hayden  Newcastle United 24 8 3.00
Luke Shaw  Manchester United 32 8 4.00
John Lundstram  Sheffield United 28 8 3.50
Luka Milivojevic  Crystal Palace 31 8 3.87
Douglas de Paulo  Aston Villa 33 8 4.12
Jonjo Shelvey  Newcastle United 30 7 4.28
Granit Xhaka  Arsenal 31 7 4.42
Joachim Andersen  Fulham 31 7 4.42

One yellow every 4.2 games.  Not at all over the top for a player taking on the essential role from midfield.  If Arsenal had a problem that season it was with Hector Bellerin, not Xhaka.  But in fact we don’t have a problem: we have a player doing a particular job rather well.   Shame some fans and virtually all journalists can’t accept that.

2 Replies to “Do we need Xhaka. Why does he get so many cards? Or actually, does he?”

  1. Puts things in perspective. On the other hand, Xhaka did seem (my recollection) to have a history of making particularly unnecessary and costly fouls, and ocassionally dwelling on the ball, which didn’t help him.
    In the Euros Xhaka was a standout player, and this was widely recognised in the media. And seems to have killed off the cheap “nicking a living” comments.

  2. Tony

    Thanks as always for the work you put into getting the facts. This nonsense about Xhaka is more media bilge. It started when he came over. Early on he was prone to mistakes. But he’s always been a worker in the middle of the pitch and, as you say, it’s his job to tackle and hit people, FFS. The FFS being mine not yours. I rate him. His emotions got him and he lost the armband but not the spirit of captain. Very often his foul will be a ‘professional foul’ as in you take it for the team. If Declan Rice got the better of him I must have been watching a different part of the screen, lol.
    So, we need him, his cards are in line with his position in the team and some are harsh.

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