Granit Xhaka is, perhaps, one of the most polarising players in recent Arsenal history.
After joining the club in 2016, Xhaka quickly became one of the Gunners’ most important players and even earned the club captaincy. However, after a public spat with Arsenal fans, it seemed as though the 29-year-old’s position at the Emirates Stadium, both as captain and as a player, was untenable and he was promptly stripped of the armband in 2019.
Two-and-a-half years later though, Xhaka has made some serious headway with the club’s fanbase after a move away from north London failed to materialise, with the midfielder now once again a key figure in Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal team.
But not everybody has agreed with Arteta’s stance on the midfielder. Liverpool icon Jamie Carragher, speaking back in January after Xhaka had been sent off against the Reds, branded the former Gunners captain as a “liability” and insisted that he had to be moved on.
Carragher told Sky Sports: “From the outside looking in, every manager picks him, so I actually think he must be a good character, a good trainer and a good lad. He is a good player as well, we have seen that in a Switzerland shirt and at times in an Arsenal shirt. But it does get to the stage where he is a liability in terms of what we saw tonight.”
Carragher continued: “It’s never going to change now. We’re talking about a guy who has played maybe 250 games for Arsenal. That is a player they have to move on.”
But Arteta refused to buckle and, instead, elected to stand by the controversial Swiss midfielder again – and the Spaniard is now reaping the rewards.
After being nudged into a slightly more advanced role, Xhaka has managed to shake off the ill-discipline that has previously plagued him and thrived. The playmaker was influential once again in Sunday’s 3-0 win over Brentford and was even serenaded by the travelling support. On the pitch, Xhaka earned plenty of plaudits for the inch-perfect cross that teed up Gabriel Jesus in the derby win.
With Arteta under pressure to ensure Arsenal at least qualify for the Champions League this term following another summer of significant investment, Xhaka’s recent impact is a huge boost.
And Ian Wright, one of the club’s most prolific ever goalscorers, has lauded Xhaka’s ability to influence the play further up the pitch – and he is adamant that the ex-Borussia Monchengladbach has the scope to improve even more in his new advanced role to further vindicate Arteta’s backing.
Speaking on BBC’s Match of the Day, he said: “For me, Granit Xhaka is a player that we’re finally seeing play like he does for Switzerland. He’s playing in a position that suits him, playing more offensively. He’s playing with real authority and confidence.
“Lately he’s been able to find space and from there he can be really dangerous because, for me, he’s got easily one of the best left-foots in the Premier League. It’s a great cross for the Jesus goal, it’s fantastic. He can also do the defensive stuff, he gets back and gets his foot in there.
“He set the tempo for Arsenal off the ball. I’m really pleased for him because I was one of his staunchest critics. But now we’re seeing the best of Granit Xhaka.”