Granit Xhaka isn’t a defender. We all know that. But Arsenal have been saved by his heroics a lot lately, and it’s best you not lose track of that.
It was Unai Emery’s idea to try to use Granit Xhaka as a centerback at times. At other times, a leftback. It was scary, not going to lie. Even for a Xhaka apologist like myself. So naturally, when Arsenal had to settle for a defensive pairing of Shkodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka with just ten men against Chelsea… you might have been scared.
And you might have been wrong. At least on the Xhaka front. Because yet again, Xhaka answered the call, did his part, and ensured that at the very least, nothing he did was going to negatively impact this match.
Then again, this shouldn’t have been all that surprising, if you’ve been paying attention recently. Of course, many people will only see the things he does wrong, so let me go ahead and remind you how he has completely changed the face of the past two matches.
Against Sheffield United, he didn’t have just one goal-saving plays, but two. The first was a clearance off the line to deny Sheffield an opening goal. The second was a blocked shot to deny them the go-ahead.
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Call it a fluke. Fine.
But against Chelsea? Xhaka wasn’t just a defensive midfielder. He was a centerback. And he was next to Shkodran Mustafi, the man responsible for the situation to begin with.
Xhaka never looked uncomfortable. And at times, he even looked remarkable. His upturn of Tammy Abraham? What dreams are made of. This was a defensive showing of epic proportions and while he didn’t have the one singular moment of heroics that he had two of against Sheffield, he did still showcase tremendous solidity to ensure that things did not get worse.
In that full hour at the back, he only had one moment of unstable footing, when Batshuayi got in behind and squibbed the finish, but you could just as easily blame Mustafi for that one and, again, nothing came of it.
That’s two matches in a row now where Xhaka has been an incredible defensive presence, not to mention his usual impeccable self on the ball. Yet again he did not forfeit possession a single time. I don’t care how sick you all are of my pro-Xhaka narrative, there is something special going on here and you need to pay attention to it.