Granit Xhaka arrived at Arsenal with a reputation as a hard-tackling, ill-disciplined central midfielder, despite all his talent. On Sunday against Burnley, he earned a straight red, and a four-match ban, for a studs-up tackle after losing the ball. Later in the week, he was accused of abuse at Heathrow Airport.
People have had better weeks. However, the Swiss is also only 24. I’ve known some 24-year olds, and, yeah, well.
So, focusing mainly on his on-pitch propensity for suspensions, the question for our Writers of the Round Table this week is:
How worried are you about Granit Xhaka, really?
Travis: I'm not concerned about Granit Xhaka in the least. He's young, he's still adapting to the league, and his talent is undeniable. Sure, his moments of frustration hurt the club and his image, but let's not pretend he's the first player in recent history that's struggled to adapt to the league: Laurent Koscielny picked up two red cards within his first eight matches as an Arsenal player - his first coming in his competitive debut for the club. If one assumes that a) Xhaka eventually matures and cuts this out of his game and b) continues to play at the level he's displayed as of late, there should be very little to worry about his future and impact with Arsenal. Arsene Wenger had (finally) trusted him enough to warrant his inclusion over Francis Coquelin up until yesterday's sending off and soon-to-be ban, and assuming Wenger has a "come to Jesus" meeting with Xhaka while he serves his time there should be little reason to see the Swiss midfielder excluded from the squad once he's eligible to return. Xhaka's partnership with Aaron Ramsey in the center of the pitch has provided the attack more directness and opportunities and there's no reason, whatsoever, that getting Jon Moss'ed twice in the same season should suddenly relegate him and his skillset to the bench.
bozz: I'm not concerned. If he hailed from Boggy Bottom, Hertfordshire the pundits would be caressing their nude selves over his no-nonsense tackling and grit. He'll be fine and should be one of the first 2-3 names on the team sheet for the next decade. He's still young.
pdb: I'm going to expend more words to say what bozz said in a sentence, because essentially he's right. All we hear about from the English pundit class is how the game used to be all about grit and steel and all that stuff, and how that's missing (and missed) in today's game. Well, guess what? As I wrote the other day, Granit Xhaka is what that looks like. He is grit. He is steel. He is hard edged. To riff of what bozz said, if his name were Nigel Edgerton-Smyth, he'd be a hero. Unfortunately, at this stage in his development, Xhaka is also kinda dumb. He's got all the talent in the world, but he needs to be able to pick his spots a little - ok, a lot - better. But he is young! He's 24, and with the right tutelage and with a few more games under his belt, he'll dial it in and his hardness will become far more an asset than the liability is has proven to be throughout big stretches of 2016/17.
Aidan: I'm not concerned about Xhaka. He's committed 11 fouls in English football. Two of those fouls include ridiculous calls -- the penalty against Stoke, where Joe Allen ran into him, and the foul at Swansea, which was never a red card. It is that foul that allowed the narrative to become about Xhaka needing to control his game, which is silly, given it was the yellowest of yellow card offences. But because Arsenal didn't appeal, and Arsene Wenger allowed that narrative to be spun, rather than saying these things purely privately, Xhaka has become a target for referees, which allowed Jon Moss to send him off for a second time. Xhaka's foul yesterday was a bad foul, but it was also on the harsher side of red cards, given he never actually made contact with Steven Defour. Basically, this has become A Thing because Arsenal never stepped in to not make it a thing, and instead let alternative facts become the predominant narrative.
fbj0: I'm kind of concerned but not really. Xhaka isn't perfect. His tackle Sunday put him at risk for a red card. It isn't the first time he's looked awkward when going to ground and it's definitely something he can improve on. Like others who have joined the club, Laurent Koscielny most recently comes to mind, he'll improve his disciplinary record with more time at the club and in the league. We expect instant transformation these days with the transfer fees out there, but sometimes it takes a bit to fully integrate. He's already a very good, nearly indispensable player for the Gunners. If he can improve his defensive positioning and tackling even slightly, he could be great.
Thomas: I’m not sure “worried” is the word I’d use for Xhaka. He’s a really good player, anyone who’s watched him can see that, and as others have mentioned he is still pretty young and has loads of time to grow and develop into an even better player. The word I’d choose is “frustrated.” There’s a few reasons for that. It’s really frustrating to see a good player do dumb things for me, more so than it is to see a player who isn’t as good do the same stuff. He ought to be better than that, and the relative lack of discipline when it’s not the only recourse is maddening. But more than anything else, it really felt like he’d finally cemented the place in the team that he deserves, and his partnership with Aaron Ramsey was beginning to flourish. Now, with Xhaka banned, Santi Cazorla in purgatory, and Mohamed Elneny off playing for his country, we’re basically guaranteed a return to Francis Coquelin as starter, which at this point is pretty obviously a downgrade. I’m not as virulently anti-Coq as some (he’d be fine in the role he’s found himself in since his return from injury), but if this ban vaults him back over Xhaka in the depth chart, that’s bad news.
So I’m pretty frustrated with Granit Xhaka. I know he can do better – he’s an extremely good soccer player, and he’s smart enough to know that tackle was idiotic – but he has to do it, and until he re-establishes his ability to do so, it’s going to frustrate me.
What say you? Are you worried about Xhaka, or are you more worried about what kind of breakfast to have?