Granit Xhaka: The Redemption
By Rob Worthington
The 27th October 2019 probably stands as the darkest day of Arsenal’s desperately disappointing season to date. Not because of the result, even though that was greatly disappointing, but instead because of a major incident on the 67th minute in which no one covered themselves in glory.
Sat in the upper west stand, watching on in disarray after we had thrown away a 2-goal lead against Crystal Palace, I saw something which I’d never seen at the Emirates before. A substitution was announced which was greeted by rapturous applause around me. The applause eventually turned into unpleasant booing. The Substitution? Number 77 for number 34, Bukayo Saka for Granit Xhaka, youth product for club captain. An Arsenal substitution.
As Granit Xhaka trudged his way towards the dugout, clearly disappointed by Unai Emery’s decision to hook him, he responded to the applause of the fans. Xhaka threw his arms towards the West Stand and infamously shouted ‘f*ck off’ at the Arsenal faithful (or perhaps unfaithful at the time).
Yes, an Arsenal captain should never act in this manner towards his own supporters but equally, an Arsenal supporter should never act in this manner towards their club captain. Xhaka was later stripped of the captaincy and it seemed a move away was inevitable after the captain of the Swiss national team failed to apologise to the Arsenal fans and his agent later indicated that his client had agreed terms with Hertha Berlin.
The story could have easily ended this way if it weren’t for the combined work of Freddie Ljunberg and Mikel Arteta. Firstly, Ljunberg reintroducing the former Monchengladbach man into the first-team fold and Mikel Arteta has reportedly persuaded Xhaka to stay following crunch talks upon the arrival of the Spaniard at the club.
It has been widely acknowledged that Arteta is a huge fan of Xhaka. It is being suggested that Arteta suggested to Manchester City officials that they should look to sign Xhaka when he joined the club as Pep’s assistant in 2016. 3 and a half years down the line, Mikel Arteta is manager of Arsenal and sees Granit Xhaka as a fundamental part of his plans.
Two of the things Arteta loves about the Swiss International is his passing-range and his left-footedness. Thus far under Arteta offensively, Xhaka has helped the Gunners build attacks from the left hand-side working alongside David Luiz as the two main distributors.
Defensively, he has also been seen filling in for Sead Kolasinac or Bukayo Saka when they have bombed forward to join the ‘5-man-attack’. He is a crucial part of a system which looked incredibly flawed without him against Chelsea at the Emirates during the New Year.
Upon his reintroduction to the first team, Xhaka’s attitude has been impeccable. He has done everything Arteta and Ljungberg have asked of him whilst also seamlessly reclaiming his leadership duties. Xhaka has been supportive of young players and has been seen regularly barking orders at his teammates. Most Arsenal fans will agree that he truly has been wearing an ‘invisible armband’.
Xhaka’s performance against Chelsea was nothing short of outstanding. As an auxiliary centre-back, Xhaka arguably produced the best central-defensive performance of any Arsenal player so far this season. His statistics from the game don’t particularly strike out to you(only 2 aerial battles won and just 81.1% pass accuracy). Although, what stood out was his spirit. He rallied the Arsenal players to a 2-2 draw in an away London Derby in which no one would’ve backed Arsenal to get anything out of following David Luiz’s dismissal during the 26th minute. The Swiss international seemed to be the gunner who understood most what this result meant, he was absolutely buoyant upon the full-time whistle. He knew that this felt like the turning point for Arsenal, the start of something new, the start of something special.
Xhaka has reconnected with the Arsenal fanbase after a number of turbulent months. Xhaka has a manager who has seemingly has huge faith in him. Xhaka appears to be happy in an Arsenal shirt again. What Arsenal need from Xhaka now is consistency. If he can keep his attitude right and if he can maintain high standards of performance, there is no reason why Xhaka can’t retain the captaincy at Arsenal one day. Nonetheless, these are ‘big ifs’ and he still has a lot to prove at the club. For the moment, I hope that the Granit Xhaka can continue to redeem himself. It is abundantly clear that Arsenal need him, and it’s time for him to show just why this is the case.