Granit Xhaka is finding his form at Arsenal with the newfound free space left in Bukayo Saka’s wake.
Football is a perplexing sport and Granit Xhaka is a perplexing footballer. Throughout his tenure at Arsenal, Xhaka has been somewhat of a lightning rod, attracting staunch defenders and fervent critics alike. The latter demographic is often the loudest and most conspicuous on social media platforms, but the midfielder’s loyal supporters certainly have a leg to stand on when it comes to the Swiss’ impressive qualities.
Apart from Thomas Partey, who has barely kicked a ball in the legendary red and white of Arsenal, Xhaka remains the best deep-lying midfielder at the club. For all of his limitations, on his day he has the ability to control the pace of games with his extensive range of passing and quarterback-esque vision.
Many Xhaka advocates will quickly point to the player’s position at the top of most statistical midfield categories to underline his importance to the team. Yet, his naysayers would argue that Arsenal’s reliance on the 28-year-old is the exact reason the club finds itself looking up at its rivals rather than down.
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Whether you choose to love or hate Xhaka, one fact that simply can not be denied is that until the club brings in a worthy replacement in the Swiss midfielder’s position, he will be a vital cog in whatever success Arsenal attain.
Perhaps the most baffling aspect of the Xhaka enigma is the fact that he simply gets better in the face of major adversity. It’s as though when the criticism and vitriol around the player hits fever pitch, that’s exactly when fans see the very best out of him.
Xhaka is a player and a man who thrives off of the opportunity to prove doubters wrong and responds somewhat positively, or perhaps vengefully, in the face of hardship.
In most normal situations this would be an admirable, even desirable, trait. However, most Arsenal supporters will agree that the adversity Xhaka often overcomes is of his own making.
We can all recall the nadir of his Arsenal career to date. The dark scenes of walking off to boos and jeers from his own fans – giving back the venom he was receiving, mind you – don’t need to be revised. To his credit, Xhaka returned after the episode against Crystal Palace and won back most supporters with his talking on the pitch. However, this season once again so a head-in-hands moment for Xhaka when he allowed emotions to get the better of him once again in a clash against Burnley this season.
After serving his three-game suspension for raising his hands to the neck area of Burnley’s Ashley Westwood, Xhaka did what he has customarily done throughout his Arsenal career; thrive off adversity. In the four games since his return, the Swiss international has been essentially faultless, but this time around it isn’t simply because of his character, but because of a new tactical shift that has truly unlocked him.