In the summer transfer window, Ask any Arsenal fan about Granit Xhaka and if they still wanted him at the club. Ninety percent of the fan base would tell you the club needed an upgrade in that position. However, the occasional captain and defensive midfielder had a world of fight left in him that fans had yet to see.
Seven games into the season, that figure has drastically reduced. Ladies and gentlemen, Granit Xhaka, is winning the hearts of the Arsenal fan base. No one thought that would happen. No one. How Granit Xhaka has gone from Arsenal pariah to fan favorite is surprising. As stated earlier, the fan base didn’t want him at the club.
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They all wanted him gone. But right now, the fan base is singing his name at the end of the match and has no problem with him wearing the armband he threw down and was stripped off. So the question is, what has happened? What changed? How did Arsenal and Xhaka come together after all these years? To see the Arsenal faithful singing his name was such a poignant and emotional moment. So the question is, what happened? How did Granit Xhaka complete his redemption?
A lot of credit needs to be given to Mikel Arteta for Granit Xhaka’s change in fortunes. First, Credit to Mikel for being brave and consistently sticking with Xhaka even when the fan base didn’t want him. Since Mikel Arteta walked through the door, Granit Xhaka has been Arsenal’s most consistent performer and their best midfielder.
Many fans will say Thomas Partey, but how many times is Partey available? Xhaka is ever present in the squad. At the moment, he cannot be dropped.
What Mikel Arteta has done with Xhaka is he moved him into a position where he is less of a liability and has more impact. Before Arteta, the question was what was Xhaka’s position. What was his role in the team? What did he bring to the team?
Arsene Wenger used him regularly as a defensive midfielder, but that did not work out well. Xhaka’s rash and poorly thought-out decisions led to suspensions that cost the team. Sometimes, his mistakes led to goals. Mikel has moved Xhaka into a more advanced role as the Left 8, where he doesn’t have to be the defensive midfielder breaking opposition plays. He also doesn’t have to be the number ten that would rack up goals and assists.
Now, he keeps an eye on both sides of the pitch. Be the extra defender when needed and be an attacking outlet when needed. Yesterday against Brentford, he was high up the pitch to provide the assist for Gabriel Jesus’s header. He also did an excellent job filling in the left-back position when Kieran Tierney moved higher up the pitch. He contributes to everything that happens with the Arsenal team.
Now he has to keep an eye defensively with Thomas Partey and offensively with Martin Odegaard. He is controlling games and having an impact in both halves. He is more composed and comfortable and has not been making rash and reckless challenges. The change of position has increased his efficiency and his performance levels, and he is improving.
Xhaka also has better players playing around him. His partnership with Thomas Partey has taken more of the defensive responsibilities off him, which helps his efficiency in his new role and reduces the risk of him being a liability.
Odegaard in front of him means he doesn’t have to be pressured into scoring goals and providing assists regularly. The defensive pairing of William Saliba and Gabriel is reliable enough to let Xhaka roam about the pitch doing his job.
The players around him at the moment are massive upgrades on the ones he was playing with earlier in his Arsenal career. Mustafi, Kolasinac, David Luis, Mertesacker, and the likes were all good players in their rights. But they were not as effective as the current players in this Arsenal team. And the truth is it can only get better from here.
If Arsenal signs Youri Tielemans in the January transfer window, it wouldn’t be to replace Granit Xhaka. It would be to provide the much-needed depth in that midfield area. This season, he has been Arsenal’s best player. He hasn’t delivered a performance less than a 7/10 this season. It can only get better.
On the flip side
Leopards don’t change their spots. And the situation may likely not be different with Granit Xhaka.
Xhaka, sooner or later, would receive his customary red card and suspensions. He would make of his rash challenges and poor decisions that may or may not cost the team. That is Granit Xhaka. The arsenal fan base should be ready to accept this reality. As they have received Granit Xhaka back into the fold and support him the same way, they supported William Saliba when he scored an own goal against Leicester. After all, He is an Arsenal player.
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