I will also use this opportunity to say I am impressed with how we have navigated the much dreaded, “make-or-break October schedule”, we drew and lost one game in the Premier and Europa League respectively, and sit top of the pile in both competitions, credit to the team and our manager, who has been nominated for the manager of the month award for the “difficult” October for the hard work, long may it continue.
One notable absence from our win on Thursday was Granit Xhaka (due to suspension) and I can’t but notice his absence as his replacement, Sambi Lokonga, failed to walk his talk on the pitch. The boy has an exceptional talent for hiding and being anonymous, you could feel we massively missed Xhaka’s presence, leadership and playmaking abilities which in my opinion, contributed to the not-so-good performance we witnessed on Thursday.
Now, this article is not just about Thursday’s game alone, the game just highlighted what I have always thought about the player who is arguably the most divisive player in the Emirates era, perhaps just behind Mezut Ozil.
However, Xhaka’s case is intriguing because, despite the division and over-the-top backlash from a large section of our adorable fanbase, he is usually favored by all his managers, both internationally and at the club level, but this did little to stop the fans from hating on him; at that time, my last resort to defend him was “all the managers can’t be wrong, you can’t possibly know more than his managers”. The more he plays, the more hate he gets, although his habit of losing his head and getting sent off was really annoying still, you could sense the whole thing is exaggerated. Many fans wondered why he was always the first name on the team sheet, questioning what he brought to the team, the hate was so much that they can’t even see his impact on the team, yet when he does not play, something is always missing in the engine room.
I know many are already shaking their heads and rolling their eyes in disagreement after seeing the title of this article, others would say Partey and some Gabriel Jesus and they would not be particularly wrong, (I am tempted to go further on this but I don’t like lengthy articles) — before Partey, Arsenal would struggle to dominate a game, let alone win when Xhaka is not playing, he always had the most PROGRESSIVE passes even before his position change, but you would only read ‘Xhaka is too slow’, so what makes the Premier League Player of the Month of October nominee such an important player to us?
Tactical Flexibility: You may remember, Xhaka has played as a CB, DLP, LB, and also in a pivot and now excelling as a box-to-box midfielder. Xhaka was the only midfielder that could form a pivot with any of our midfielders. Xhaka-Ramsey, Xhaka-Torreira, Xhaka-Elneny, Xhaka-Guendouzi, Xhaka-Partey, they all couldn’t/can’t do without Xhaka, but he can do without them all. The best pivot has to have Xhaka in it, he is the balance in our midfield, this continues on the second point.
Fitness: The way Xhaka is always fit has to be studied, man is a cheat code. I always call him Granit the granite. He is so fit that he is never rested even when other senior players are rested, such is the confidence of his managers in his fitness levels, this also shows his importance to any team we put out. I am certain beyond any doubt he would have started the game on Thursday if not for suspension. I think we unconsciously under-appreciate him because he is always available.
Mental Strength: There is no way you can come back and be this transformed (as a player) and united with the fans (after ‘that incident’) if you are not mentally strong. Most players of Xhaka’s age are often withdrawn from the attacking positions and deployed at the base of the midfield to preserve their energy, but Xhaka’s position changed to a more demanding box-to-box role at his age and in a league as physical as the Premier League. He never hides no matter what, he plays his heart out week in, week out!
A natural leader:
When we signed him, he narrated how his parents would leave the keys to the house with him despite having a senior. He captained B.Monchengladbach at the age of 22/23, he is currently the Swiss captain as well. In Arsenal, even though he lost the armband, you would be a liar if you don’t agree he is our captain without the armband
. In good and bad times, he is ready to take responsibility, always organizing the team, and he has the respect of his team and manager. He is my captain!
To be honest, I could go on and on, but this is already longer than I would like, so on a final note, after 7 years, I am happy Granit Xhaka is finally enjoying his football here, and I am seriously hoping he stays with us when he retires from playing like Per Mertesacker, because whether you believe it or not, we are going to miss him when he leaves. If Arteta was as old as Wenger, I would be wishing Xhaka takes over from him, but Arteta (My Manager) himself is just getting started so we have to wait on that one, hopefully, we are all alive to witness that.
And talking of Wenger, he signed Per, Arteta, and Xhaka, fine players and amazing human beings looking after his club in his departure. Ladies and gentlemen, Arsene Wenger, has done it again!
Onwards and Upwards Gooners.