There are still so many Arsenal “fans” who hate on Granit Xhaka, but his absence against Aston Villa says all that we need to know.
I haven’t gotten on my Granit Xhaka soapbox in a while, and given Arsenal‘s piss-poor performance against Aston Villa, I figured it’s time to hop back up there and shout at all the haters out there. Surely, surely by now, you have to see the difference.
Granit Xhaka played just the second half against an inspired Aston Villa, and that created two separate Petri dishes to stick under the microscope and examine. The differences could not be starker, and could not be a bigger testament to how important Xhaka is to the prolonged success of this team.
There’s a reason Mikel Arteta counts on Xhaka in every single match. There’s a reason why Arteta broke his usual substitution policy to bring Xhaka on after 45. And there’s a reason Xhaka will probably never be dropped again.
In the first half, Arsenal was all over the place. Dani Ceballos was tremendous, Lucas Torreira was less so. But for as good as Ceballos was, Torreira wasn’t.
The Uruguayan provided no stability for this midfield, so a void ended up developing in the center of the pitch, preventing the safe transfer of play between defense and attack. What little success we found here came from Ceballos, but all the other times, there was no outlet.
No coincidence—that’s where Granit Xhaka usually fits into things. He provides the safe outlet and transfer of emphasis into the attack when there’s nothing else available. Which would have been a massive part to play in this one seeing as how we just didn’t have it.
When he came on in the second half, the match had changed. While we needed his calmness and solidity to establish a foothold in the first half, in the second half Villa were pinned back and the Gunners needed Xhaka again. This time he was there and able to provide the backboard we were so desperate to achieve in the first half.
It’s scary what happens when we don’t have Xhaka vs when we do, and it’s scarier still that some fans don’t see it.
Although, all the people that matter do see it. Mikel Arteta did. Arsene Wenger did. Everyone that’s ever managed him has seen it. So at least I can rest easy knowing we won’t need to see much Xhaka exclusion in the future.