Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka was moved as he reflected on having his name sung by the travelling fans after marshalling his side to victory over Brentford on Sunday.
It’s been a long road to redemption for Granit Xhaka.
Just over 12 months ago, he was sent off during Arsenal’s crushing 5-0 defeat by Manchester City as a dismal start to the season went from bad to worse. Nearly two years earlier, he had been stripped of the captaincy after an X-rated outburst at his own fans during a Premier League encounter with Crystal Palace.
Throughout his time at the Emirates, critics have questioned his temperament and whether he’s been worth persevering with. In fact, they continue to do so – just ask Garth Crooks. But even the naysayers cannot deny that Xhaka is flavour of the month on the red side of North London once more, emerging as one of the league’s most in-form midfielders so far this term.
Flourishing in the new box-to-box role Mikel Arteta has handed him, the Swiss has chipped in with one goal and three assists this season, to already surpass his goal involvement tally from the previous campaign. His latest assist was a delightful first-time clipped cross to pick out Gabriel Jesus as Arsenal coasted to a 3-0 victory at Brentford on Sunday.
As the full-time whistle blew and the visitors went to thank their travelling fans, there was a touching moment as Xhaka’s name rang out in the West London air. The 29-year-old had been entrusted with the captain’s armband in the absence of injured skipper Martin Odegaard and led by example with a dominant display, setting the tone for a comfortable victory to send his side back to the summit of the league table.
“I never, ever was thinking this would happen,” said Xhaka as he reflected on wearing the armband and hearing his name sung after the match. “To be in front of them [the travelling fans] then was very emotional. Absolutely, after what happened three years ago? To be in front of this team means a lot to me.”
Granit Xhaka and Gabriel Jesus
Xhaka’s resurgence is symbolic of Arsenal’s over the last year, having lost the corresponding fixture at Brentford 2-0 after a calamitous opening-night performance 13 months ago. He added: “When you see us one year ago and you see us today, it’s a big, big difference.
“I think we deserved it [the victory] from the first minute today, we could have scored after one minute with [Gabriel] Martinelli and they didn’t have one chance until 70 or 80 minutes. It’s a process of learning and a process of mentality. A lot of stuff is very different.”
Arsenal’s latest triumph took their tally to six wins in seven league games, thrusting them into the title conversation at this early stage, leading the league as it heads into the international break.
However, Xhaka has stressed he will not be “looking at the table”, but instead is focusing all his attention on what is shaping up to be a titanic North London derby in the first game back.
“If I’m honest, we have to enjoy where we are but I’m not looking at the table,” he said. “I think we always produce a good game against Tottenham. Always good, but it will be a different game because it’s a derby. You can’t compare the derby to a normal game.”
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Xhaka is a wise, experienced figure in a youthful Gunners squad and he revealed he is working towards achieving his UEFA B License, having started taking coaching lessons last March.
He has already put his skills to the test by working with Arsenal’s academy players and, remarkably, he has taken to the London Colney training pitches with 15-year-old Ethan Nwaneri, who became the youngest player in Premier League history with his substitute appearance against the Bees.
“I don’t know where I’ve been at 15! To be one guy 15 years below me… the club can be proud of him,” Xhaka said of Nwaneri.
“To be honest, I’m doing my coaching lessons and I coached him at Under-16 and I can see he’s very, very special. Of course, we have to protect him.”
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