Two of Bundesliga’s finest midfielders recently made their move to England; Granit Xhaka made the transfer from Borussia Monchengladbach to Arsenal, while Ilkay Gundogan joined Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, ending a successful spell at Borussia Dortmund.
It was a turbulent season in many ways for both Arsenal and Manchester City. Looking like legitimate title contenders in the first half of the season, the clubs seemed off the pace after the turn of the year and settled for top four finishes.
Arsenal, who did manage to secure second place, were mathematically ruled out of the title race with almost a month to spare. Manchester City, on the other hand, were at risk of missing out on next season’s Champions League and managed to squeeze into the top four on the final day with a 1-1 draw at Swansea. With an array of world-class players at their disposal, the City fans expected much more from their side in the Premier League.
Two of Arsenal’s experienced midfielders Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini have left the club, making way for new arrival Granit Xhaka. Meanwhile, City midfielder Yaya Toure’s future is in jeopardy after Pep Guardiola’s arrival, and Ilkay Gundogan could potentially be his replacement.
Granit Xhaka adds steel to the Arsenal midfield
In the past few seasons, Arsenal’s midfield has lacked the cutting edge needed to take the team over the line, particularly against the better teams in the league. While their defenders have been relatively stable and their attacking players have by and large delivered, a weak base in midfield has led to the Gunners’ downfall. Signing Egyptian destroyer Mohamed Elneny in January was a signal of intent by Arsene Wenger, and now with Xhaka’s addition, the Arsenal faithful may finally have reasons to cheer.
The Swiss supremo has enjoyed one of his best seasons with Monchengladbach and at the age of 23, has chosen the perfect time to make the step up to the Premier League. While scoring goals may not be his forte, his ability on the ball is undoubtedly beneficial to the London based club. In his 28 league games this season, Xhaka averaged 7.4 accurate long passes per game, winning 2.4 tackles from his position at the base of midfield. He also has the ability to dribble his way out of trouble before finding a pass.
Granit Xhaka: Of players to attempt 50+ dribbles in the last 2 Bundesliga seasons, Xhaka has the best success rate (83.8%)
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) March 28, 2016
While he has been one of the finest on the ball, he has been equally notorious off it. As per WhoScored, Xhaka has committed more fouls than any other Bundesliga player in the last two seasons. The Switzerland international has been shown the red card on three occasions and has a further five bookings to his name. To get the maximum output from the 23-year-old, Arsene Wenger may need to give him a lesson or two about his discipline during matches.
Gundogan’s fitness is a major concern for Manchester City
After months of speculation regarding his future, Ilkay Gundogan was announced as a Manchester City player on Thursday, making him Pep Guardiola’s first signing at his new club. While the City fans rejoiced, they also have plenty of cause for worry.
Gundogan does not arrive with a clean bill of health. The German has missed 124 games in his professional career till date — a stat he will not be particularly proud of. Guardiola took a gamble in signing the former Borussia Dortmund man, but when fully fit and firing, Gundogan is one of the box-to-box midfielders in the world.
Although he has been employed in deeper role at Dortmund, Gundogan has suggested that he would be interested in playing a more physically demanding box-to-box role. At 26, the midfielder is at the prime of his career and the Premier League may just be the stepping stone needed to elevate his game. Capable of turning defence into attack with immaculate long balls, Gundogan is also exactly the type of technical player who could thrive under Guardiola.
Ilkay Gündogan: Has won possession in the middle third of the pitch more times (237) than any other player in the last 2 Bundesliga seasons
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) June 2, 2016
According to WhoScored, in 25 appearances last season, the former Dortmund man averaged 80.9 passes per game, with an impressive accuracy of 88%. He also boasts 2.3 interceptions per game, making him a reliable ball-winner in midfield.
Which Premier League club has made the better signing?
Although Xhaka and Gundogan differ in their playing styles and roles, Arsenal have arguably made the better Bundesliga signing. The Gunners have desperately needed a player like Xhaka, whose leadership on the pitch and combination of technical ability and defensive awareness allow him to control games from midfield.
While Gundogan is a better passer and a more disciplined man on the field of play, Xhaka’s defensive abilities are what give him the upper hand. Manchester City’s new midfield signing is also notoriously injury-prone — a big concern for Pep Guardiola given the physical nature of the Premier League.
The Citizens have made the bigger gamble, but could earn the bigger reward if Gundogan returns to his best form. At their best, Gundogan is arguably the better footballer. However, Xhaka’s reliability and the fact that he addresses a long-term problem area for Arsenal means that it will be Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger who will have the bigger smile in North London, having taken an early step ahead of their title rivals.