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Arsenal manager Unai Emery has challenged Granit Xhaka to “change the opinion” of his critics after he was named as the club captain on Friday.
The Switzerland international’s new position was confirmed by the club ahead of their clash with Manchester United in the Premier League on Monday. Although Xhaka has skippered the team on numerous occasions, it was a surprise for many supporters to see him take the armband on a full-time basis.
Having struggled for form as of late, Xhaka was jeered by some of his home supporters in Sunday’s 3-2 win over Aston Villa.
Emery said he admires the qualities of the player and thinks he can alter perceptions, per James Olley of the Evening Standard:
“I trust and believe in him, and he is a good man, a good professional and a good player. Sometimes he has made a mistake, yes, but the most important thing is to analyse, to learn and to correct that in the future.
“His challenge, and our challenge, is to change that opinion and, above all, show personality and improve in each match and give us his help every time. The first match is on Monday at Manchester United.”
Here is more of what Emery had to say:
Sky Sports Premier League @SkySportsPL
Unai Emery explains why he has made Granit Xhaka the Arsenal club captain ©️
More: https://t.co/uBM1mWJndP https://t.co/t2I9gcuiNy
Per the Arsenal website, Xhaka will be part of a leadership group at the Emirates Stadium, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Hector Bellerin, Alexandre Lacazette, and Mesut Ozil also involved.
Xhaka will need to perform to a higher standard if he is to change the mind of his critics, as he’s been inconsistent throughout his time in English football.
For long spells of games, he can appear assured in possession and aggressive when trying to win the ball back. However, the midfielder frequently makes rash decisions in crucial areas and is prone to switching off when tasked with defensive duties.
Henry Winter of the Times thinks Xhaka is fortunate to have been given this kind of responsibility:
Henry Winter @henrywinter
Xhaka very, very lucky. Now needs to raise his game, improve his discipline, both tactical and temperament. Guendouzi is #afc heartbeat, not Xhaka. Holding more a leader than Xhaka. Important that Emery finalises vice-captain soon because of Xhaka’s record with suspensions. https://t.co/spnidPmhNz
Winning a poll conducted among his team-mates would suggest that the Arsenal squad consider the 27-year-old to be an authoritative voice in the dressing room, though. That will be a key attribute in a squad full of younger players.
Charles Watts of Football.London spoke about what Xhaka might be able to offer in the role:
Charles Watts @charles_watts
I’ve never been Xhaka’s biggest fan, but do feel that off the pitch at least he will be a good skipper. He’s a respected figure with his team-mates, takes on responsibility and is a strong voice in the changing room. Obviously also does it for his country.
Football journalist Tim Stillman doesn’t think the decision makes much difference to the current squad dynamic:
Tim Stillman @Stillberto
I don’t really care who the Arsenal captain is, personally. I think it’s irrelevant. Leaders are leaders are leaders and who wears a bit of cloth on their arm and calls the coin toss doesn’t strike me as important.
At the moment, Xhaka faces a fight for a starting berth in north London. Not only has Matteo Guendouzi blossomed this term, Emery has Dani Ceballos, Joe Willock and Lucas Torreira to call upon in central midfield.
The hope at Arsenal will be that the honour bestowed on Xhaka will bring some much-needed maturity to his play. If he can eradicate that recklessness from his football and settle into a consistent run of form, then the Swiss will be a big asset for the Gunners in the Premier League.
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