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A Septemba’ to Rememba’ for Xhaka

Arsenal vs Tottenham: Premier League result and report as Gunners dominate Spurs in north London derby at the Emriates stadium | The Independent

Xhaka celebrating the match clincher against Spurs

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

Sayonara.

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Will Arteta’s Influence be Enough to Keep Xhaka and Aubameyang?

Image result for aubameyang xhaka arteta

In Unai Emery’s final weeks with the club, things went really bad and it was evident that the only plausible option was to terminate his contract with the Gunners after 18 months. The results were pretty poor, the performances were dire and the attitude of some of the players (no need to mention names) were shitty to say the least.

Two of the club’s senior players had been on the news lately, for all the wrong reasons I guess, speaking from a fan’s perspective. Firstly, there was the well publicized issue of Granit Xhaka and his falling out with the fans. The then club captain was going through a terrible run of form, but his manager chose to keep playing him, probably with the hope that he’d get back to form, and it didn’t work out.

Then the Crystal Palace game happened, and the back lash that came with it. Boy, things were really messy and at that point in time, the only plausible alternative was for Xhaka to leave the club to pastures anew and he tasked his well paid agent to work that out. It was no surprise when it was reported that the midfielder had agreed a deal with Hertha BSC, with only the transfer fee with Arsenal holding the deal. Yes, Hertha is no Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund or RB Leipzig that are in the upper echelons of the Bundesliga table, but Xhaka is very familiar with that league, spending four seasons with Borussia Monchengladbach before we snapped him up in 2016. For the Swiss captain to join a club that’s 12th on the table, it looked more like him just doing his bit to get away from Arsenal, rather than move to an ambitious club that would challenge for trophies.

But hey, can you really blame the lad? Especially with what happened with the fans in that fateful game, how his psyche was so messed up that he required counseling and how he felt he wasn’t loved by the fans he sweats and bleeds for. He was even stripped of the captaincy just a month after receiving that honor. If Emery was still at the club, I am absolutely certain that he would have been taking photoshoots with his new Hertha BSC jersey, but there’s a new sheriff in town, and that sheriff, Mikel Arteta, wants him to stay,

“I think he’s going to stay. I really like him. The way we want to play, if we get him on board then he can be a tremendous player for the football club.

“It’s his commitment, I like the way he focusses, I like the way he lives his profession, he’s willing to learn and he’s a great football player.

“It’s also his range of passes and I’m just delighted to have him.”

In the two games Xhaka has featured under the new boss, he has looked like a player reborn and it would be an absolute nightmare losing him in the January transfer window, when targets are hard to find. According to the Sun, the Gunners are keeping tabs on Juventus’ Adrien Rabiot if Xhaka still leaves, and it seems plausible, with the French midfielder struggling to feature regularly for the Old Lady. With Dani Ceballos struggling to really replace Aaron Ramsey, in terms of fitness and form, the Gunners still lack some depth in central midfield, even though Matteo Guendouzi has shown some flashes of his ability, we all know he’s not a finished article.

Another player that had been dominating the headlines was club captain, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, when it was reported by the Daily Mail that he had pulled out on contract talks with the club and was ready to leave the club this summer. There was also another article from Spain – El Desmarque (reported by Sky Sports) that Real Madrid are planning to make a 70 million quid offer for the Gabonese forward with James Rodriguez as make weight to sweeten the deal.

Typically, I’d take such news articles with a pinch of salt, but the pertinent question should be why the Gunner’s hierarchy should be allowing our best player’s contract get to almost 18 months without a renewal. I know the club employed Mr. Huss Fahmy to handle issues like this but we cannot have another potential Aaron Ramsey situation here again where we would get to the point were we are between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.

However, Arsenal’s manager, Arteta, has made his intentions clear to keep Aubameyang (via Sky Sports) and with the forward stating that he’s 100% with the Gunners, (via Goal.com), we can only hope that he means those words.

The signs are looking good with Arteta on the helm and that knock on effect is expected in all facets of the club. The players performances have stepped up a notch since he took over and even though he lost against Chelsea due to a goalkeeping gaffe and some good ol’ Mustafism, the fans commended the effort the players put and the defeat didn’t feel all too bad, especially with the virtuoso performance against Manchester United that followed it up.

There is still hope to compete for silverware with the FA Cup and of course, the Europa League that is currently looking like Arsenal’s best chance to return to European football next season. Arteta has clearly stated his forward plans to the board, his players and the fans. Let’s just hope that senior players like Xhaka and Aubameyang are 100% on board.

Sayonara.

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Thoughts on Emery’s Press Conference on the Xhaka Situation

Image result for emery xhaka

*Good Ebening*

As the saying goes, the shit has hit the fan following the Granit Xhaka episode in the disappointing draw on Sunday. I’d touched on it yesterday but I’d like to take some time out to share my thoughts on Emery’s presser yesterday ahead of the Liverpool game in the Carabao Cup. Knowing the English press in all my years as an Arsenal fan, I was very certain that all line of questioning would be centered around the incident of Sunday, rather than who the manager was going to feature in tonight’s game.

You can get the full excerpt of the interview on the club’s official website but I’d like to touch on a few points the manager mentioned in the course of the interview. Captain or not, what Granit Xhaka did was absolutely wrong and disrespectful to the values of Arsenal football club and as Sir Isaac Newton stated, for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. I remember that fateful game a few years ago when our dearest Arsene Wenger in his infinite wisdom, substituted Andrey Arshavin for a young Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and the fans hit out immediately, singing that he doesn’t know what he was doing. The manager maintained his calm decorum for the entirety of the game but famously stated afterwards that he has made 30,000 substitutions, so really, the fans can’t tell him how to do his job. He had the option of unleashing his inner Jose Mourinho to throw a fit or something, but that professionalism took center stage, rather than his emotions. Ok, I digress.

Now here we are, a couple days after the incident and there was pretty much radio silence from Arsenal, but as expected, we the fans, and journos alike were hoping to get some form of closure from the manager and he delivered that, so let’s get to it.

Firstly, Emery discussed at length on his player’s mental state first and foremost, which was clearly on show on Sunday. Xhaka isn’t the first player that has been booed by his home fans (remember Emmanuel Eboue, 2011/12 season Aaron Ramsey and even Hector Bellerin when he was going through that wretched run of form) and he wouldn’t be the last but he allowed his emotions make him do the unthinkable. Now the manager says he’s devastated and sad. It’s okay to be devastated and sad after you did something of that nature, but as the manager says, the player still needs our support, as donned the famous Red and White 143 times in four seasons with the club. The supporters are clearly unhappy and rightly so, but Xhaka deserves the stick he got for his tantrums. I’ve learned that the club is willing to offer some counseling session to the player, so let’s see how things pan out from there.

Next up, is the issue of a public apology from the player himself. I am in alignment with the manager that it has to be done, because anything else will be unacceptable. The same fans that boo you today can certainly love you tomorrow – yea, we are fickle like that, so Xhaka needs to go online and issue that apology.

Image result for xhaka celebration love

We don’t really care what platform he uses, as long it’s out there that he regrets his actions and says he’s sorry. He can use the famous love sign on his post while he’s at it.

Then of course, there’s the CAPTAINCY!!! Here’s I’m going to point all my fingers on Unai Emery because he showed a clear lack of leadership in this regard. In the previous campaign, Laurent Koscielny retained his place as club captain following Emery’s arrival, while Petr Cech, Aaron Ramsey, Nacho Monreal and Mesut Ozil completed the famous captain gang, but at the start of the new season, we lost Ramsey, Monreal and Cech while Koscielny pretty much bailed out on us, leaving us with just Mesut Ozil as the last man standing from that clique. I don’t know why it took us that long for the manager to elect his new skipper to take over from Koscielny, but the fact that Emery still had to consult with the players to have ‘their votes’ seemed really weak. So we got Xhaka and know the other players that completed the new leadership of the team.

Now, you, the captain of all people, gets substituted and you do that? Not good enough. That is more than enough grounds to get stripped off the captaincy. A certain William Gallas threw some tantrums in St. Andrews and launched a scathing attack on his team mates, losing his role as skipper. Emery tactically found a way to deflect from giving a direct answer when he was asked whether Xhaka would lose the captaincy, and I’d say that was very crafty, but with the Wolves game coming on in the weekend, we will have a clearer picture. Word on the street is that the players still want Xhaka to remain captain despite what happened but I expect some decisiveness from Emery on this matter, which is sadly, something he hasn’t shown a lot this season.

Sayonara.

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