Granit Xhaka's Clean Slate Under Mikel Arteta Could Be the Foundation for Future Arsenal Success

​About an hour before Arsenal took to the Emirates Stadium turf for their 2-1 loss to Chelsea, it looked as if Granit Xhaka had kicked his final ball in north London.

Hertha Berlin were on the prowl and, considering the noises coming out of the Swiss' camp, a deal was virtually agreed to see the 27-year-old depart the Premier League in favour of a Bundesliga return. Rumours he was 'ill' for the clash seemed wide of the mark.

On the surface it seemed a deal to satisfy all parties. Xhaka's relationship with the fanbase had reached new lows after his explicitly-worded outburst to a combination of ironic cheers and booing directed at him from his own supporters in October. Subsequently stripped of the club captaincy and outcast from the squad, his Gunners career was on tenterhooks.

The sacking of the man who made that a reality offered Xhaka a lifeline and, to his credit, after Freddie Ljungberg reintroduced him into the side he conducted himself in a professional manner with performances not akin to those fans had seen at the beginning - and indeed all throughout - his time with the club.

Nevertheless, few predicted a long affiliation with ​Arsenal would be forthcoming after the incidents against Crystal Palace, regardless of his reintegration into the side. That looked even more assured when it seemed he was going to latch onto the first club to cast him a lifeline. Whatever you make of the Gunners' current plight, moving to Hertha who sit 12th in the Bundesliga is an indisputable step down.

So that's where Mikel Arteta comes in. For his first game in charge against AFC Bournemouth, it was fairly clear what his thoughts on Xhaka were: this was a player he rated highly and saw pivotal to the team's success.

Mikel Arteta

The style of football Arteta is already drilling into his new players is vastly different to the more pragmatic, labouring approach seen under Unai Emery. More importantly for Xhaka though, is that it relies heavily on a midfield pivot.

Emery was lambasted by Arsenal fans - rightly so - for his insistence of utilising Lucas Torreira in a more advanced position. Signed as a defensive midfielder, the Spanish boss preferred to use his ball-winning abilities further up the pitch, a ploy which rarely paid off. However, what this did was expose Xhaka on countless occasions, making him the scapegoat for Arsenal fans when the side were caught cold on transitions on a weekly basis.

That is not to say that Xhaka was exempt from blame, far from it. For too long has the Swiss been painfully under par, showcasing nowhere near enough dedication in his game, pride for the shirt and ultimately, enough quality.

Being handed the captaincy was not well-received among Arsenal folk outside of the dressing room, and while it is speculative, it appears as if the added responsibility weighed heavy on his shoulders.

Granit Xhaka

Yet, Arteta made it abundantly clear that every man in his squad would be given a clean slate upon taking the reins, and Xhaka looks set to be a key beneficiary of that. 

The tactical teaks he is implementing have Xhaka sitting deep alongside Torreira, seeing the likes of ​Alexandre Lacazette drop back to link play and freeing up the full-backs to provide the over and underlapping runs in attacking positions. This two-man pivot in the centre of the park is essential in building attacks from their own half.  Left-footed, Xhaka complements Torreira, who performs a similar role on the right-hand side of the central midfielders. 

Signed by Arsenal for £35m in 2016, Arsene Wenger was smitten by Xhaka's range of passing - hence the hefty price tag. Arteta sees this trait as paramount to how he wants Arsenal to play, and with Torreira no longer caught high up the pitch when the Gunners lose the ball, Xhaka's key weaknesses, pace and mobility, are no longer exposed.

In the ​Premier League game against Manchester United this was perfectly illustrated. Torreira's tenacity in winning the ball back complemented Xhaka superbly, who was able to pick up the pieces. When the Swiss receives the ball the rest of the team spring into action. They know which runs to make and which patterns of play to set up for.

However, simply adjusting certain tactical elements isn't the be all and end all. Indeed, the players need to buy into the philosophy in order to see the fruits of its labour come to fruition, something that was in plain sight during the 2-0 win over United.

He's made the players more energetic, determined and with an entirely new focus. Arteta has shone a new light down on the Emirates Stadium - even with just four points from his first three matches. It is early days yet, but the manner with which his side secured three points over the Red Devils has boosted the confidence from inside club out onto the terraces.

Key to that is Xhaka, who has been offered the chance to reinvent himself, in a style that plays to his strengths and doesn't highlight his failings. 

What has been overlooked in previous seasons as a result of errors he's produced has been his distribution. Equally capable of pinging a wonderful 50-yard cross field ball as he is at dallying in possession or missing a five-yard pass, it's the latter of those elements that have come to the fore and caused Arsenal fans to turn on him.


Arteta seems to have a found a system that limits those mistakes while bringing his natural ability to the fore. Emery and Ljungberg failed to do so, but a distinct degree of credit must go to the player himself.

I, like many, have been a stern critic of his. Justified, I believe so, but to suggest there was never a talented player under the error-strewn individual many fans have paid to watch week-in week-out would have been unjustified.

A new era in the club's history is being written, and which players will be remembered for their role in its infancy will be interesting to see. Xhaka, for one, but not alone, has performed admirably in the first few pages of this chapter. 

"Play for the name on the front of the shirt and they will remember the name on the back." 

Professional in his approach and willing to open his ears (in the right way this time) to his new manager's guidance, the early signs are there that he could play a starring role in the quest to stop the rot the club have gotten themselves into.

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Source : 90min