Arsenal putting their midweek defeat behind them against Aston Villa was the perfect response just before the international break, and the overriding emotions are nothing but positive.
The team showed resilience, determination, unity, and ultimately quality in a superb all-round display, one that keeps their top four ambitions firmly within their grasp.
There were some gripes, though, even if none of them were performance related. At the end of the first half of the Gunners’ 1-0 win at Villa Park, Granit Xhaka received a yellow card from referee Andy Madley.
Xhaka being given a booking is nothing strange. It happens quite often. Yet, on this occasion, he was shown a yellow card for one reason and one reason only: because he’s Granit Xhaka.
Arsenal facing unquestionable Granit Xhaka bias as referees treat Gunners midfielder differently with yellow cards for nothing
The incident came about when he and Emi Buendia contested for the ball on the edge of the Villa box. Buendia eventually won the free-kick over something not even remotely egregious – despite him having three nibbles at Xhaka – and then when he got up Xhaka offered him a shake of the hand. The right-back didn’t fancy it, and Xhaka’s extended hand turned into a light push.
Much ado about nothing.
Not for Madley, however, who went over to the Arsenal midfielder and somehow saw indiscretion with his actions, proceeding to tell him that this was his third foul and therefore he deserved the booking. There are, sadly, numerous faults with this.
Firstly, the incident on itself didn’t deserve anything at all. Nothing happened. Secondly, and very frustratingly, Xhaka hadn’t committed two fouls prior to this. In fact, that was his first ‘foul’ of the entire game. It was first half stoppage time.
When Madley explained this to the Swiss he could even be seen repeating ‘three fouls, what three fouls?’, while Alexandre Lacazette to his side uttered ‘no, it’s zero’. Meanwhile, across this game, Cash committed four fouls and never even got a talk into from the referee.
Xhaka’s reputation exceeds him. He is framed as this bad boy of the Premier League – despite having the same number of red cards in the division as Fernandinho, and while he most certainly isn’t the cleanest footballer on the planet, referees are starting to make decisions based on reputation alone instead of on a game-to-game basis.
Going back to the Norwich game in December we can recall another such incident where Xhaka was booked for absolutely nothing. It was a scuffle that he didn’t even get involved in. The referee at the time, Graham Scott, just assumed the midfielder was involved somehow and carded him. Even the UK commentators for the game were puzzled, with one declaring ‘if you’re in doubt, just book Xhaka’.
There is a very clear bias going on here. It is special treatment that isn’t changing.
And, yes, while Xhaka has contributed to this reputation for how he sometimes conducts himself on the pitch, it has got to the point where referees are booking him because it is deemed as the sensible thing to do. They referee the idea of Xhaka, not Xhaka himself.
"“When I once got a red card, the referee said to one of my team-mates, ‘You know how Granit is, he loses his head’. This feels wrong,” Xhaka told The Athletic back in December.“Just because I lost my head against Burnley, for example, it is not like I lose my head every time. To put me in this box like this I believe is wrong.”"
Maybe it’s time people listened to him more.