Barnstorming Xhaka performance for Switzerland vindicates a price hike
By Mac Johnson (Senior Writer)
My oh my oh my, what a day Monday, June 28th was in the world of football. European giants Spain took 120 minutes to beat an aging Croatia side, having recovered from a one-nil deficit to take a 3-1 lead, before conceding two goals after the 85th minute to send it to extra time, eventually triumphing 5-3.
It was last-gasp, intense, and drama packed football, and only once the final whistle had blown did fans worldwide allow themselves to relax with beers in hand, thinking their day couldn't get any more frenetic. Surely, world-champion France would romp all over a blunt-edged, unconvincing Switzerland side. Oh how wrong they were.
The match started much as expected, with Switzerland scrapping and France floating along. Until of course, an inch-perfect header by group-stage donkey Haris Seferovic nestled behind a shocked Hugo Lloris in the 15th minute, shocking the world. That one-nil lead would last through halftime, with France continuing to coast, unable to muster consistent momentum as they struggled to adapt to a confusing tactical regimen.
They did recover, though, and after normally coolheaded Ricardo Rodriguez missed a penalty early in the second half for Switzerland, they used the lapse in morale as a springboard to tuck two home past Yann Sommer, both courtesy of Karim Benzema. When Paul Pogba added a third in the 75th minute, the game was assumed to be done and dusted. Ah the quirks of football.
Switzerland came charging back with a vengeance, proving for the second time that day that 3-1 might just be the scariest scoreline in football. Seferovic added his second in the 81st, and Mario Gavranovic finished the comeback at the death, arrowing a shot into the bottom left corner, a shot assisted by Granit Xhaka. Two scoreless periods of extra time followed, and when penalties came, all it took was one mistake. On the last penalty before sudden death, superstar Kylian Mbappe rounded off a truly lacklustre performance by drawing a magnificent top-hand save from Sommer, and Switzerland advanced to their first ever European quarterfinal.
Key to nearly every aspect of the Swiss comeback was Granit Xhaka. He was defensively astute, his passing was incredibly secure, and most importantly, he never lost hope. Epitomizing the true international captain, he led his team vocally, tactically, and in his play. He also played 120 minutes non-stop; even when others were cramping and calling for substitutions, our Swiss Ironman simply never stopped. Even the yellow card he picked up was tactical, rather than rash, and his effect on the team will be quite noticeable when it's missing, as he'll miss the next match.
His performance epitomized this new Granit Xhaka, the Xhaka that Arsenal fans have suddenly become loathe to lose. He's showing us the best of himself, just as we're about to lose him, to Jose Mourinho no less, and it hurts. But if there's one thing we know about a good performance at a European tournament, it's that it can raise a player's stock exponentially.
Granit Xhaka's deal to Roma has been all but finalized, with one exception. The clubs can't agree on a price, at least not publicly. Roma want closer to £17m, and Arsenal are demanding the full £20m, but I think we can get more than that. I'm not suggesting we ask for £40m, but even an additional £5m—that's a total of £25m, for those of you who are as mathematically challenged as I am—could prove crucial in a summer where Arsenal need all the money they can get. We're already failing to turn a profit, but at least we're garnering a fair sum with a little more off the top of the Xhaka deal.
And if Roma think that's too much, who cares. We're already falling short of our expected recruitment levels in the midfield. As of now, we have two central midfielders on the books, excluding Xhaka. Once our loanees return, that number will rise to six, but with Guendouzi and Torreira almost certainly securing moves away, and Ainsley Maitland-Niles looking unlikely to trouble Arteta's squad selection process, only Joe Willock has a true future at the club. We need anybody we can get who has the requisite quality.
Now don't get me wrong, I think the club should move beyond Xhaka. He's a player who is rather indicative of an era of Arsenal from which most of us would like to move on. But as he proved this season, and as he's proving at these Euros, we can't let him go for nothing.
It's a conundrum, and one unlikely to resolve itself with any sort of peaceful compromise. No matter what, one party will be unhappy, and much as I don't want to accept it, it will likely be the denizens of North London. But I'll be damned if I'm giving up without a fight.
Lord knows Xhaka wouldn't.