Granit Xhaka Needs to Start Showing Some Aggression
By Mac Johnson
Ironic, isn’t it?
Granit Xhaka is a player who has been spurned, time and time again by Arsenal fans, for being too aggressive. He’s rash, foolish, and loses his cool, and commits stupid errors that often put his status on the pitch, and the team’s success, in jeopardy. Now, since Arteta’s come to the club, he’s rewritten that a bit, showing an increased sense of positional play, and a willingness to drop back and cover instead of scything into yet another stupid tackle, having been spun by a half-decent midfielder. But it’s the time in his career where he has to start showing some aggression again, if he wants to retain his place in the lineup.
Thomas Partey has just cemented himself in Arsenal fans’ hearts as the deep-lying midfielder of the future. His display of composure, strength, precision, skill, and yes, aggression, swept us off our feet at Old Trafford on Sunday. But it’s not just the Ghanaian that Xhaka has to contend with. Arteta trusted Mohamed Elneny in the engine room, relying on his boundless energy to subdue a rather misshapen United midfield. Elneny's recent inclusions have suggested Arteta needs a midfield that speeds the game up, maintaining high intensity and high discipline at the same time. So what does Xhaka have to change to reclaim his lost spot in the team? Add more aggression. Not while defending, God please no. Instead, he has to channel all of his passion and anger into pursuing the starting spot. He has to prove to Arteta and us that he can play in a modern midfield.
That will mean being able to play up-tempo, finding better space for outlet balls from the centre-backs, swinging balls forward and splitting lines instead of passing sideways. He must begin committing opponents, taking the game to them, rather than inviting pressure, as he is accustomed to. Even more than that, he must prove himself capable of playing outside his tactical role. He’s earned a place in the squad through playing it safe, making sure he cements the basics of everything Arteta wants. But with Partey as his competition, his contributions must become extraordinary. That’s not saying Xhaka doesn’t have his uses. He'll likely turn up guns blazing for the Molde game. But Partey has neatly snatched the starting role from under his nose, and I reckon he wants it back. Let’s hope he fights to win it.