Granit Xhaka has addressed the criticism he faced after giving away a penalty during Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League on Sunday.
The Gunners were 2-0 down after 40 minutes, thanks partly to Xhaka sliding though Heung-Min Son in the box. His reckless challenge allowed Harry Kane to convert from 12 yards and add to Christian Eriksen’s 10th-minute opener.
Xhaka called for acknowledgement of the positive aspects of Arsenal’s performance, per Sky Sports News:
“Of course critics are always here. The north London derby, I think we had a good game. I made a mistake with the penalty but if you saw the game, we could have won. We had a lot of chances but this is football. Nobody speaks about the chances, nobody speaks about how many we missed. They always speak about the mistakes. This is part of football.”
The midfielder’s rebuttal is unlikely to assuage the growing number of critics who view the Switzerland international as accident-prone. High-profile mistakes have become a staple of Xhaka’s game during his three-year spell with the Gunners:
Match of the Day @BBCMOTD
Since his #PL debut in 2016, no player has conceded more penalties than Granit Xhaka.
Lapses in judgement like the tackle on Son are the result of Xhaka’s aggression and lack of discipline in the engine room. The 26-year-old rarely wins the ball cleanly and has become a prolific source of free-kicks for the opposition:
The Sun Football ⚽ @TheSunFootball
Granit Xhaka – fouling people? Imagine our shock. 😵 https://t.co/SGS9hYgpUI
Duncan Alexander @oilysailor
18.4% of Arsenal’s fouls in the PL this season came from Granit Xhaka this afternoon
His penchant for self-destruction is particularly frustrating for the club given the former Basel playmaker is counted on to be a figure of authority in the squad. He wore the captain’s armband against Spurs, and head coach Unai Emery views him as a key leader.
The problem is a captain is often counted to be a calming influence, something the Gunners have lacked for too long. Yet Xhaka’s rash tackling and frequent rushes of blood to the head are hardly the ideal examples to the many younger midfielders around him.
Matteo Guendouzi, still just 20, showed him how to exert influence the right way with an imperious performance in the derby. The France international assisted Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s equaliser in the second half, along with dictating possession and breaking up play.
Guendouzi, 23-year-old Lucas Torreira, academy graduate Joe Willock and Real Madrid loanee and Spain U21 star Dani Ceballos are all earning minutes in the middle for Arsenal so far this season.
Emery has at least been quick to defend Xhaka in the wake of Sunday’s events:
James Olley @JamesOlley
Emery on Xhaka: “In 90 minutes, I am very proud of his work. Some mistakes you can have. The penalty is one very disappointing action but he worked and played very well. If we win maybe we are speaking about the mistakes less.”
Parlour has echoed the sentiments, applauding Xhaka’s quality on the ball during an appearance on Talksport (h/t Metro): “Xhaka is good on the ball, he’s decent. He can spray passes 25 or 30 yards no problem, he’s very good at doing that.”
Parlour’s advice involved prompting Xhaka to simplify his game and make smarter, calmer choices.
It’s true Xhaka’s strengths as a conductor of possession are often overlooked. He has a wand of a left foot and the vision and technique to deliver a wide range of passes.
His ability to switch play between short, efficient passes and long balls over the top gives the Gunners multiple ways to stretch and unlock defences. Timing tackles and tracking runners remain obvious weaknesses, but Xhaka is still a useful player in Emery’s setup.
The onus is on the latter to identify the right ball-winner to protect his skipper.
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