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REDEMPTION

Granit Xhaka has completed the transition from laughing stock to undroppable

Everyone loves a true underdog story

I’ve seen him described whimsically online as a glorified Jonjo Shelvey. The Swiss Cattermole.

After two years of various brain farts and letdowns, I can assure you that Granit Xhaka is now neither of those things.

Xhaka arrived at Arsenal with the added pressure of knowing Arsene Wenger turned down N’Golo Kante, opting instead to focus on the Swiss international.


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Xhaka has come of age

Getty - Contributor
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Xhaka has come of age

In the two seasons that followed Xhaka misfired and frustrated while his disciplinary record made Joey Barton look like a saint.

But this campaign the much-maligned midfielder has been one of the unsung heroes of Arsenal’s season.

Despite all the fuss around Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi, Xhaka has emerged as Unai Emery’s midfield mainstay and emphasised his new-found importance with a brilliant all-round display against Man United on Sunday.

Torreira’s impact has faded this season

AFP or licensors
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Torreira’s impact has faded this season

Not only did he score a wicked opening goal that deceived the best goalkeeper on the planet, he regained possession 11 times in 90 minutes – no Arsenal player bettered that.

Xhaka was left unfairly discredited by the initial reaction to his strike.

Immediately fingers were pointed at David Dea Gea for his positioning and anticipation, but the Gunners midfielder’s strike was ferocious and is fast becoming his forte.

Better than Bale’s?

Reuters
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Better than Bale’s?

Swerving this way and that; it was a true sign of the sweetest connection.

That goal took his tally to four against the rest of the top six – more than Romelu Lukaku has managed since his move to Old Trafford in 2017.

But, as even Xhaka himself suggested in the aftermath, his defensive output was arguably even more impressive.

Pristine hair despite the rain

Reuters
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Pristine hair despite the rain

There is a sense that the penny has finally dropped, that he’s close to eradicating his tendency to go AWOL in games and embracing the greater responsibility.

On Sunday, without the suspended Torreira or Guendouzi, Xhaka was tasked with snuffling Paul Pogba and Fred alongside the more attacking-minded Aaron Ramsey.

He excelled, summed up by this crucial intervention in the second half when Marcus Rashford looked set to pounce:

He’s still prone to the odd moment of madness, somehow escaping punishment early in the derby for scything down Harry Kane.

But Xhaka is no longer the Emirates laughing stock, lazily scapegoated when Arsenal go full Arsenal as they did at Rennes last week.

A similar redemption story at Tottenham

Reuters
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A similar redemption story at Tottenham

Instead, much like Moussa Sissoko across north London, he’s shaken the ‘banter-merchant’ tag on merit and matured into a fine midfielder.

Keyboard warriors, your @MagicalMesuts of this world, might brand him a fraud every now and then but in reality, Xhaka is deservedly now one of the first names on the team sheet.

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