It’s tough to admit when you’re wrong.
There aren’t many people out there that enjoy being shown the error of their ways or opinions. It happens to us all as none of us are flawless. You would think that we would get used to it, perhaps even take the high road and use it as a learning exercise.
But no. The majority of us either use it as a stick to beat ourselves with – a constant reminder of our flaws.
Or we brush it off and continue to be opinionated.
Well, most of us got it wrong with Granit Xhaka.
The evidence is right in front of us. We just clung onto a few observations and tried to deflect the actual truth.
Which is, that Xhaka may not be the second coming of Johann Cruyff, but in terms of making the team tick? He’s more than good enough for us.
Let’s consider the facts.
Firstly, Arsene Wenger, Unai Emery, Freddie Ljungberg and Mikel Arteta continued to select the maligned midfielder where possible. Asa a collective in terms of footballing intelligence, they far surpass the combined knowledge that we possess. They continued to select him. It may not have always been in a role that suited his skillset, but Xhaka was predominantly in the team.
Secondly, our win rate when he is in the side far outweighs when he isn’t in the eleven.
This was a stat taken from April last year.
Arsenal’s PL record when Xhaka has completed 90 minutes in midfield this season vs without.
With: 15-4-1. 75% win rate. 2.25 scored per game. 1.0 conceded per game.
Without: 4-2-6. 33% win rate. 1.67 scored per game. 1.67 conceded per game.
This season, he has a 75% win rate when on the pitch again.
He consistently appears in amongst our top runners in terms of distance covered. Xhaka is also one of the best at intercepting plays and starting us on the front foot – especially with his range of long passing.
This season, after the captain’s armband was taken from him, his normal penchant for rash tackling has seemed to simmer down a little. Which has resulted in less setplays given against us and less opportunity.
The real kicker though for Xhaka and his career at the club – is Arteta has found the ideal role for him.
Before the Spaniard arrived, Xhaka was pigeonholed as a defensive midfielder. True, his base of operations lies in between our third of the pitch and the central third, but Xhaka is far from a one-trick pony. Part of his style is to break up play, but one of the main reasons why he copped so much heat from a large swathe of our fanbase is his inefficient tracking back. Xhaka too often would let runners bypass him and make penetrating dashes into the box.
But when we give Xhaka that responsibility, it takes away from what he specialises in, which is quick turnovers and transitions. This in turn allows our pacy players like Saka and Aubameyang to run into space and know they’ll be picked out.
Arteta has come in and shared the responsibility of the defensive side of midfield across the board. We defend as a team and attack as one unit. That frees up the Swiss midfielder to do what he does best.
And it explains why we now see the Xhaka that was playing for Borussia Moenchengladbach and for his national side.
Xhaka isn’t a box to box, but true midfielders don’t really need a label.
Granit Xhaka now adds real value to the team – and the respect his teammates have for his leadership and him as a teammate makes it appear that a return to the armband after his return to the side is very much on the cards.
We were wrong – Xhaka makes us a better team and it’s time he got the credit for giving it his all.