Today I want to have a bit of a chat about Granit Xhaka. A man who many have lambasted, who seems to really divide the fanbase almost right down the middle, a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve and his emotions are often very visible for us all to see.
He hit rock bottom in that Palace game at home earlier in the season. I was at the game with the Management and at the time I turned to her when he was having a pop at the fans for giving him some heavy abuse during the game, saying that I didn’t think he’ll have much of a future beyond the club, certainly not beyond January.
But here we are, in February, with him as one of a number of players whose fortunes have turned around under Arteta. The redemption of Mustafi is getting a little more prominence than Xhaka, I feel, but I suspect that’s more to do with the fact that the German was almost at levels so low that it felt comical. But the Swiss has been the one that I think as a team we have really benefitted from his upturn in fortunes. He has also been interviewed on the official site talking about how much happier he is now. There’s a video on the official website (I can’t link to it for some reason – think it’s embedded on the website) in which he talks about being the captain, his talk with Arteta just a couple of days after joining the club, plus the belief that the new man has installed in him personally. It’s a great story of redemption and if you’re a proper Arsenal fan, whether you like Xhaka or not, you can’t help but be happy of this story that is emerging with Granit.
Arteta himself has shown his tactical knowledge and his ability to spot a players strength and try to minimise the weakness and no more has that been more obvious than with Xhaka. We all know that he isn’t the best in the world when he’s turned. He gets run past very easily. We also know that he has a propensity to commit silly fouls. But whilst his fouling isn’t something that has gone from his game, I feel like it has been minimised; certainly in silly positions where it puts us under danger.
What Arteta has done is to put Xhaka into positions where he isn’t overloaded or put under the kind of pressure that he can’t recover from. Everybody is talking about the Saka and Xhaka positions they both take up on the pitch, but whilst people are rightly praising Saka for his offensive contribution, that can’t be done without Xhaka tucking in to that left side position when he’s going forward. Arteta knows that Saka is a young player who likes to operate in the final third, so he’s emphasising the strengths in Saka’s game and trying to minimise his weaknesses. He’s not a left back, but he’s not spending all of his time at left back and as a result he’s putting in some great performances.
It’s the same with Xhaka. He’s not a defensive midfielder. He’s not a player who can press high. He’s not a guy who will have any success if he’s overloaded or ran at during a game by a pacey attacking midfielder. So Arteta isn’t putting him in those positions. He’s making sure that the positions Xhaka occupies emphasise his strengths and play to his ability on the ball. And even if you’re one of those people who doesn’t like Xhaka – I am certainly NOT in that category – then you can’t deny that one of his strengths is his passing range.
We’re seeing more of that now. But we’re also seeing the fans appreciate him a little more too now, game-by-game, I mean. As I said at the beginning of the blog Granit Xhaka is a player who polarises opinion. And some people still don’t like him, don’t want him in the team, etc, etc. Some people set their stall out and that’s it.
They’ll die on this hill, etc.
But I always think it’s telling when people who are on one side of the fence go quiet. It’s almost like the old adage of a referee; if you aren’t talking about a referee then you know he’s had a good game. It feels to me the same with Xhaka; if those fans who sit on the ‘get him out’ divide of the fanbase aren’t lambasting him for doing something silly, then he’s probably performing quite well. And I think he is. I think he’s one of the first names on the teamsheet in Arteta’s eyes and certainly if Bukayo Saka continues to play I wonder if that will continue. But actually I also wonder if this will become a more regular thing with the other full backs too. Tierney likes to get forward, we all know Kolasinac likes to get forward, so perhaps this is a part of the pitch that Xhaka will also start to occupy even when Saka doesn’t play?
Whatever happens, I just hope that Xhaka continues his redemption, because he’s a good player in our team and an integral part in the way Arteta wants us to line up.
Catch y’all tomorrow.