Rarely is a fanbase so torn on one particular player.
I, for one, have been stinging in my assessments of Granit Xhaka at Arsenal. I’ve labelled him things in the past I’ve fully backed, regardless of how expletive they may have been. The noble thing to do when you’re proven wrong, however, is to own up to it.
There was a time were the Swiss needed to leave. He was rightly castigated for some dire displays, reckless behaviour and, well, the whole telling the supporters to….’go somewhere else’.
Your mistakes shouldn’t define you. Instead, how you react to your shortcomings should be the telltale sign of your character. Xhaka has picked himself up off the mud, got his head down, and become a vital cog in the Mikel Arteta machine. We’ve heard the renaissance story before, so this won’t be another one of them.
On Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Germany in the Nations League, the 27-year-old put in a man-of-the-match performance that encapsulated his commendable turnaround. Now the captain of Switzerland, he put in a showing to match the high esteem he’s regarded in within that squad.
He ran the show from midfield. Using his captain’s instincts to bark orders at his teammates, he attempted all manner of long and short range passing with devastating accuracy. Unpicking a rigid German low block, using width and runners in behind the defenders, Xhaka was able to control the phases of attack in their infancy, constantly putting the opposition on the back foot.
At present, his role in the Arsenal team is more cautious. Alongside Dani Ceballos, his distribution in the team is more exclusively reserved for sweeping, low passes down the left channel for one of either Kieran Tierney, Ainsley Maitland-Niles or his successor of the armband, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
It’s a ploy Arteta has implemented in order to inject stability and solidity into the team, a trait that had been in severe shortage prior to his appointment. That shift in approach has worked, no doubt, even in the moments where we see Xhaka dropping into the left side of a back three to accommodate marauding full-backs.
But when the midfielder was brought to north London from Borussia Mönchengladbach for roughly £35m, the sole purpose of his acquisition was to provide the extensive range of passing that earned him such glowing praise back in the Bundesliga.
Turning defence into swift counter-attacks at the blink of an eye was his forte, one that began to dissipate as role changes and wretched form ignited the aforementioned fan furore.
Now, as he works his way back up into the good books of many supporters, his confidence has returned. All of which was evident in the draw with Germany where he pushed further up the pitch, dictated the flow of proceedings and even attempted a few trademark long-range pops at goal. Bernd Leno was having none of it, mind you.
As it is now, what Arsenal have isn’t broken. There is an undeniable lack of goals in the team – barring the obvious – which has been supplemented for greater defensive structure. Urgently requisite, for sure, but not quite ready to be abandoned just yet.
Until the personnel are brought in that allows Arteta to play more expansively, Xhaka will need to remain in his current mould. What Sunday told us, however, was that this element of his style is still buried underneath that stern exterior, and can be called upon when the time is right.