Arsenal 3-1 Chelsea: Another Xhaka Redemption Story Against the Blues
By Rob Worthington (Senior Writer)
As I sat down to write my roundup of 2020 for WLYA, one of the first things that popped up in the article was the story of Granit Xhaka's redemption at Stamford Bridge last January. That night, due to a David Luiz red card, Xhaka was forced to slot in at left centre-back alongside a Shkodran Mustafi who appeared devoid of confidence. Xhaka performed like a Trojan and it felt as if his redemption following his loss of the captaincy was complete.
Yesterday, Xhaka redeemed himself following yet another moment of madness against Burnley in a very different manner. Not only did he deliver an exemplary outing defensively, but also offensively. Without Granit Xhaka on the pitch Arsenal wouldn't have scored their two first-half goals.
With the first goal, Xhaka showed both his quality and experience. The ball out wide to set up Kieran Tierney's penalty win was pin-point. It was the sort of pass that we all know Xhaka can deliver but also the sort of pass that we want Xhaka to play more often. Xhaka's ability has been doubted lately, yesterday the doubters were silenced. Xhaka must also be praised for picking to pass rather than shooting. A 2016 Xhaka may have blazed a shot over the bar from that sort of area. Yesterday, he personified both maturity and class.
And what more can be said about Arsenal's second goal of the night that hasn't be said already? A world class free kick from Granit Xhaka. The Swiss International team captain effortlessly placed the ball in the top right stanchion leaving Edouard Mendy with no chance. Another reminder of the ability that many of us have been doubting lately.
It wasn't just Xhaka's goals that made him stand out, however. On the ball, the 28-year-old was equally impressive. He played a team high of 5 progressive passes, likely helped by the presence of Emile Smith Rowe in between the lines. Xhaka also completed the highest number of passes into the final-third for Arsenal yesterday. He played a pivotal role in our build up play that for once looked fluid.
Off the ball, Xhaka quietly went about his business in a solid team performance. Arguably uncharacteristically, he applied pressure to a Chelsea player 24 times, more than any other Arsenal player on the night. Xhaka's pressures resulted in him winning the ball back 8 times, again, a team high. Credit where credit's due, Xhaka more than held his own in a high-energy approach against Frank Lampard's Chelsea.
Despite a shaky first half display, Mo Elneny certainly helped his midfield partner. Xhaka has always thrived alongside a mobile midfielder and Elneny is exactly that. While the Egyptian has clear deficiencies in other areas of his game, his work rate off the ball can never be doubted. Alongside one of the world's best mobile defensive midfielders in Thomas Partey, Xhaka could really come into his own.
As always, Xhaka's target should now be consistency. These examples of his high quality shouldn't occur once in a blue moon, they should happen on a regular basis. After the game, Xhaka admitted he "knew what [he] did was wrong" yet he was "happy that [he] helped the team" now that he's "back." Just like last January, when it seemed the world was against him, Granit Xhaka did his talking on the pitch.