A Septemba’ to Rememba’ for Xhaka
Let me take you guys down memory lane to sometime in October 2019 at the Emirates Stadium when Arsenal shared the spoils with Crystal Palace in the Premier League.
The forgotten footballing god from Olympus, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, put the home side ahead after just seven minutes and the lead was doubled two minutes later by the shaggy-haired David Luiz. However, Crystal Palace’s penalty merchant, Luka Milivojevic, halved the deficit from the spot (of course!) and Jordan Ayew got the equalizer on the 52nd minute, much to the disgust of the Emirates faithful.
Then the moment of madness arrived – something you can tell your kids and they might even tell their own kids. With the game delicately poised at 2-2, it was only evident that the manager would seek to make some changes in his bid to win the game. The attacking trio of Aubameyang, Lacazette and Pepe were pretty much starved off the ball for the entirety of the game, and there was a certain Mesut Ozil rotting in the stands, so the manager, in his infinite wisdom, brought on an 18-year-old winger, Bukayo Saka, for the club captain, Xhaka to add more attacking impetus.
This isn’t the first time Xhaka has been subbed, and if I recall clearly, he was jeered by the crowd when his number popped up on the fourth officials board earlier in the season. This time, Xhaka, for the life of me was having none of it. He threw his armband on the pitch, rather than passing it to his vice captain, Aubameyang, screamed ‘f*ck off’ to the Gooners, cupped his ear to further incite the fans before taking his shirt off and storming into the dressing room.
These were my words from the Crystal Palace match report on the blog the next day, and at that point, Granit Xhaka’s future in Arsenal in jeopardy, he was stripped off the captaincy by Unai Emery, and his agent was facilitating a deal with Hertha Berlin ahead of winter transfer window move. However, in a certain twist of fate, Emery ebeninged his way out, and in came Mikel Arteta, who managed to convince Xhaka that he still had a home at the Emirates and within months, the Swiss captain, signed a contract extension with the club till 2024.
Fast forward to the start of the new campaign, Xhaka is given a new lease of life as well as an advanced role in the team, and as early as the second game of the season, the Swiss midfielder scored his first goal of the season, latching unto Gabriel Jesus’ ball in the box and prod the ball home. Xhaka was only available to score that goal because of his new attacking impetus granted to him by his manager. This was followed up with another assist to William Saliba in the victory against new boys, Bournemouth.
Xhaka, like the rest of his teammates, began September in a disappointing manner following the loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford. His second game in the month took place in his home country of Switzerland, as Arsenal visited FC Zurich for the Europa League opener. I’m sure the locals would have been pleased to see their hero from Basel strutting his stuff while wearing the armband for the first time in eons. Xhaka followed that strong showing at Zurich with a great performance against Brentford, which was culminated with that sumptuous dinked assist that was nodded home by the August Player of the Month, Gabriel Jesus.
Known for having such an engine which goes hand in hand with unreal levels of fitness, Xhaka went off on international duty, playing 120 minutes for Switzerland against Spain and Czech Republic. It’s also worth noting that Xhaka has notched up 106 caps for his country, since his debut in 2011.
Last weekend, Xhaka found his scoring boots yet again in the 3-1 victory over our fierce rivals, Tottenham, taking his scoring tally to two goals in nine games. Prior to that, Xhaka had scored two goals in his last 75 games, which spanned across two seasons.
His efforts have been recognized by the Arsenal faithful as Xhaka has been voted as the Player of the Month for September. He amassed a whopping 84 percent of the votes with Gabriel Jesus (eight percent) and Bukayo Saka (four percent) completing the podium.
I am very elated with the massive improvement I’ve witnessed on the pitch from Xhaka, but massive kudos would also go to Thomas Partey as well as Oleksandr Zinchenko for the roles they play in central midfield, which have allowed Xhaka add this new dimension to his game. Due to his amazing technique, he has always had a sweet strike on him, but playing in this new ‘left number eight’ role has allowed Xhaka to provide some attacking output to his repertoire, and with two goals and three assists to his name, it’s evident that it has reaped some dividends.
Let’s hope he keeps this great form going, as he has become a very essential cog to the midfield.
It was certainly a Septemba to rememba for Xhaka
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