Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka must step up and show his worth

By on September 30, 2019

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Being named club captain usually signifies a player is at the pinnacle of his time at a club. However, Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka has received the honour when his stock could not be any lower. Jeered by his own fans and seen as a mistake waiting to happen, Xhaka will tonight lead Arsenal as official captain for the first time. It’s now up to him to prove the fans wrong and repay the faith Unai Emery has put in him. 

Emery has taken his time on this appointment. Laurent Koscienly effectively ended his Arsenal career when he refused to go on the club pre-season tour back in July, but Emery stalled on his decision as he continuously commented on his desire to have ‘five captains’. 

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Emery surely would have preferred to announce Xhaka at the earliest time possible, and it can only be assumed that his uncertainty derived from Xhaka’s poor start to the season and opinion around the player.

Much has been written of how Xhaka tops the list for most errors leading to goals, and there is no shortage of footage of Xhaka pulling down players as they waltz past him or falling to the ground as he recklessly slides in to them. This inability to learn from his mistakes must have infuriated Emery as every chance Xhaka was given, he seemed to squander. 

However, as certain as the sun’s rising, Xhaka always starts. This implies the Swiss international does enough off the pitch to convince Emery he is the man to lead the team.

This mindset is felt throughout the squad. It was revealed last week the players voted for their leader and Xhaka came out on top. It’s reported that Xhaka is the man responsible for dishing out fines, maintaining standards and getting his voice heard. 

There’s no doubt the midfielder appears a respectable and level headed figure, named Borussia Mönchengladbach captain at a young age, he also wears the armband for Switzerland. All Arsenal fans can appreciate these qualities, but it is on the pitch where he must show his quality. 

Since joining the club, Xhaka has been deployed as a man to shield the Arsenal defence and break up play. However, he has never displayed qualities of these nature. Xhaka see’s himself as a quarterback of football. A Pirlo like player to start attacks from deep. There are glimpses of this working, but too often Xhaka is left exposed as the opposition midfield overloads him and he is forced to commit a foul – normally picking up a yellow card.

While Xhaka should take some blame for this, there’s a finger to be pointed towards Unai Emery for continuously leaving his midfielder so exposed. Xhaka does not have the tenacity, agility or capability to get in and around an athletic, hard-working Premier League midfield. The game is too quick for him off the ball, however, there are ways to combat this and if the Swiss is going to be a guaranteed starter, then the team has to be built around him.

Xhaka needs a player, whether it’s Torreira, Guendouzi or Willock beside him to give him the extra legs he needs. With a hard working partner, there will be less pressure on Xhaka to win the ball back, and more opportunities to play the ball forward, cutting up defences and letting the front three utilise their pace. 

Regardless of  how Emery plays his team, his decisions must lead to better results and a clearer identity.

Xhaka’s appointment is another example of where the fans and the manager have different opinions. Whether it’s the formation, Mesut Ozil or Lucas Torreria, there are becoming more and more instances where Emery is facing a backlash should his decisions not pay off. 

The appointment of Xhaka is just another one to add to the list but if the player doesn’t step up to the plate and the team continue to suffer, it’ll be Xhaka who faces the criticism. Emery is putting his job on the line by backing Xhaka and if the midfielder can’t show his worth then it could be the exit door for both of them come the summer. 

Opinions in football are fickle, Xhaka’s stock may be low now, but there’s a big opportunity for him to turn it around starting with a win over Man United. If he can begin to show his worth tonight, it would go a long way in gaining support and who knows, come the end of the season, this decision could be looked on as a positive one.

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