Lucky number 13. In being sent for an early shower at Anfield, Granit Xhaka became the 13th player to be sent off for Arsenal since Mikel Arteta became manager of the club.
His personal tally during that time is three, level with David Luiz.
By this point in the match Arsenal were weathering the anticipated Liverpool storm. Their suffocating press pinned the Gunners back, forced errors in possession and even had Aaron Ramsdale rattled.
But Arsenal dug their heels in and found some traction. Moments on the counter-attack became less hopeful and more purposeful. It wasn’t just Eddie Nketiah chasing lost causes: he was making second man runs to work potential openings.
Arsenal: The real problem with Granit Xhaka’s red card against Liverpool which plunges Arteta’s side into a midfield crisis ahead of Tottenham
As is customary, at the most threatening moment of the match for Arsenal was when the self-destruct button was hit. With the attacking move breaking down, Kieran Tierney is caught way upfield and Gabriel had tried to assert pressure from his zone, leaving Xhaka as the lone man to cover.
It’s an unenviable position to be in. Tracking Jota when he’s in front of you is tough enough, therefore chasing back to goal is even less desirable.
Ramsdale hesitates. He can beat both Jota and Xhaka to the lofted ball if he maintains his speed. He doesn’t, and he backs off.
There have been worse red cards for the Swiss. This wasn’t a two-footed lunge off the ground. But it still demonstrated a total lack of composure. And that’s the real problem here. Someone like Xhaka should not be committing a foul like that; he is far too experienced for that.
If it were Nuno Tavares, for example, the discussion would centre on how it was a valid attempt to get the ball and, while still stupid, perhaps more clumsy than anything.
Everyone watching on knows that he won’t be given he benefit of the doubt, so there should be no reason why that concept escapes him. It was a red card anyway, but why even present the opportunity for it to be considered one? Trust your goalkeeper and centre-half to defend the situation and keep the teams numerically even. The definition of experience evades Xhaka.
The vice-captain and most experienced player on that pitch has no excuse when it comes to his actions. Such is his history that there is also no telling whether or not he meant to get a chunk of Jota as well as the ball. It’s exhausting having to watch it unfold as a supporter, so the ‘terrible’ suffering, as Benjamin White put it, that the players go through can’t even begin to be imagined.
But beyond the consequences of the game, it now plunges Arsenal into a midfield crisis ahead of facing Tottenham in the Premier League and then reverse leg against Liverpool. It could even be extended to a four-game ban.
Xhaka will never learn. He won’t.