Granit Xhaka has gone from zero to, well, almost a hero at Arsenal since the Gunners’ hierarchy replaced one Spanish head coach with another. So, you don’t need to be the proverbial rocket scientist to fathom that the transformation of the midfielder’s form and fortunes is heavily influenced by the tutelage of Mike Arteta. Since the former Manchester City coach arrived in north London to replace the axed Unai Emery, Xhaka (like many others) has flourished.
It is no secret that Arteta, the former Arsenal schemer lured from his role as right-hand man to Pep Guardiola at the Etihad, and Xhaka had a heart to heart in the very early days of the new boss’s tenure. What was said, we can surmise, is that everyone at the club starts with a new slate. It probably helped in Xhaka’s case that Arteta knows midfield players, having been one in a successful playing careered with the Gunners, Glasgow Rangers and Everton.
Xhaka, then the skipper at the Emirates Stadium, had reached an all-time low in his relationship with the home fans when he was taken off in a frustrating 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace back in October. On his departure from the pitch he was roundly booed and jeered and reached, as he later described, a “boiling point”, which resulted in him taking his shirt off and tossing it to the ground. He was subsequently castigated on social media and many though he had played his last game for the Gunners.
Quite the opposite; a managerial change means Swiss ace Xhaka is now an integral part of Arteta’s plans and if anything, is playing better than he ever has during his spell in London. Yes, he still has the odd, silly mistake in his game which usually emerges in the heat of the battle when he makes a short, easy pass look difficult and his side lose possession. But the work rate then kicks in and the ball is retained as quickly as possible and once again an attack is mounted.
As well as helping to patrol the middle of the park, Arteta employs Xhaka to drop into the left-back slot when Arsenal have possession through the keeper, Bernd Leno, and the ball is fed to him to start the passage of attacking intent — imagine the role of a quarter-back in NFL. There can be no doubting he has a wand of a left foot and his sweeping cross-field balls can be things of beauty when they come off. He also possesses a venomous left-foot when it comes to dead-ball situations in and around the box and it isn’t unusual to witness a hush of anticipation if Arsenal get a free-kick within reach of goal and Xhaka steps up to take it. He has done so in the past with some success, too.
All in all, Xhaka, much like Arsenal, is on the rise. And long may it continue.