It may be Tuesday, it may be three days since the North London Derby, but I’m still soaking up all of the #content I can find. I’ve been playing the Peter Drury commentary of the goals and the full time whistle this morning. Google it or search for it on twitter, you’ll find it and it’ll give you a smile this Tuesday morning.
Sadly for me, unlike many of my workplaces, my current company only has one Spurs fan and she isn’t really that vocal, so whilst I hurtle in on the Met Line this morning, I know there won’t be many glum faces to beam at. Still, I’m able to bask in the online glow and that’s ok. I have also found myself purposefully looking out for more wise words from Antonio Conte, who came out swinging in his press conference yesterday after it was put to him that some of the Scum fans are a little disgruntled. Delicious stuff.
We’re at home to Bodo/Glimt on Thursday and that means that we’ll most likely have to wait until tomorrow until we get an update from the manager, but whilst he won’t give too much away in terms of his team selection for the game, my hope is that we get hints that there will be mass rotation. With the game against Liverpool at the weekend and the way they like to play (i.e. more intensity and more desire for ball possession compared to The Scum), there is a very tough test on the horizon that we need to be physically prepared for. Liverpool play at home this evening and will have two whole days to prepare for the visit to The Emirates on Sunday, so that’s a bit of an advantage and I’m curious to see if Klopp plays his strongest XI tonight. I suspect he will. When you can play a midweek Champions League game and then have yourself five whole days thereafter to rest the players, it gives him the chance to play a full strength team. So That’s why when we hear from Arteta tomorrow I hope he’s hinting that there will be a number of changes in our game.
If you can rest Jesus, Saka, Martinelli, Partey, one of the centre halves and both of your full backs, you can give them longer than a week off and it ensures the freshness and intensity that we will 100% need for Sunday.
One person that I don’t think will be rested, because he never seems to need it, is Granit Xhaka. He’s just won the player of the month award for September and what a way to cap off that fan-selected award than by starting the next month with a man-of-the-match performance and a goal in the North London Derby. Honestly, has there ever been a redemption arc amongst Arsenal fans that has looked so pronounced?
I have always been a fan of Xhaka. No, honestly, check out my ramblings over the years. I have loved the passing range he delivers, I have loved his character and at times he has of course driven me mad with some of his mistakes, some of the narratives that were formed around him historically were blown way out of proportion for me. Like how he always picks up red cards. He’s had five red cards since 2016. And I can remember at least one of them being ridiculously harsh; remember the red card on the halfway line against Swansea? No other player has been red carded for that kind of challenge before or since that card. He himself spoke about how some referees have even said “it’s Granit, this is what he does” and his reputation has preceded him far too many times when he has picked up yellows too. Remember the Villa game last season? I can’t remember who the ref was but he clearly pointed to multiple positions on the pitch where Xhaka had supposedly accumulated a ‘totting up’ of fouls, yet as all of the stats proved after the game and as Xhaka himself said during the game, that booking was the first foul he made.
This season I’m not sure he’s even picked up a yellow. I could be wrong but I can’t think of an instance. Is that because he’s playing further up the pitch and is therefore further away from those kind of fouls where you have to take it because you are overloaded as a team counters you in transition? I’ve seen him get a few yellows for those over the years and we aren’t seeing those right now. That more advanced position he’s taking this season is really leaning in to the positive side of his game, like his vision and ability to spot a pass. His long-range distribution is very good, but what I’m seeing more of this season is those clever mid/short-range passes. Think of in the opening minutes against Brentford for the Martinelli chance – that was fantastic vision by Xhaka to slip a teammate in. Then there was the lob-wedge chip for the Gabriel Jesus goal. That’s they kind of stuff we haven’t seen tonnes of with the previous renditions of Xhaka, but we’re getting it now.
And the good thing about him too, as opposed to a Partey or an Odegaard, for example, is that usually his fitness is such that he’s always available. So as I mentioned above already, if Arteta is going to pick one or two first teamers to start on Thursday, I don’t think many of us would be surprised to see that Granit Xhaka is one of the starters too.
He’s a leader in this team as well. On Saturday, after the first goal, he’s bringing everyone together for a chat, to reset, to say to his teammates “lads, time to make a statement here. We aren’t done with this lot. Let’s put them to the sword” and when you think about the game as a whole, we absolutely did. Xhaka was a big part of that and although he is just one cog in this functioning and well-oiled machine right now, he is a big part.
Honestly, the way he’s playing right now, how many of you would be averse to a one or two year extension for the player? He’s 30, he won’t be in this rich vein of form forever and of course there will come a time in which we need to upgrade, but that doesn’t feel as close to needing to happen as I thought it would. With the style of player he is – he’s not exactly going to lose his pace because he never had any! Plus his injury record is such that if he can stay fit he can stay a valuable member of the team – I could see him easily being able to play at this level in to his mid thirties. So perhaps the rumours of his demise were wildly mistaken?
Anyway, I think I’ll call it a day on this one for today. Back tomorrow with some Bodo/Glimt thoughts. Have a good one!