Xhaka: It’s the best season of my career

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Granit Xhaka says he’s currently playing the best football of his career and credited Arsenal’s decision to award him a new contract and the mentorship of new coach Unai Emery for his upturn in form.

While he remains a player that splits opinion on the terraces, there’s no doubting the fact that the Swiss midfielder has grown in stature at the Emirates this season. Not only has he assumed one of the vice-captain positions, but he’s also been trusted with anchoring the midfield alongside new boy Lucas Torreira.

All in all, things are going well for Xhaka. “It’s definitely my best season so far,” he told Aargauer Zeitung. “Without doubt, I think I took another step forward.”

“It was a great sign that the club extended my contract prematurely, until 2023. That was before the World Cup and it was a huge sign of how much they appreciate me. I realised, ‘Aha, I’m very important to the club.’

“And then, of course, Unai Emery is an important reason. I didn’t have contact with him until after the World Cup. When I returned for pre-season training, he told me, ‘Granit, you’re one of my five captains.’ It’s one of the top ten clubs in the world, so that makes you proud and gives you confidence.”

In recent weeks, Xhaka has been asked to surrender his central midfield role to cover for the absence of both Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac at left-back. That he was even asked to take on such a responsibility, is yet another sign of Emery’s faith in him.

“He just wants to create competition for Ricardo Rodriguez in the national team,” he joked.

Before adding: “This is really a matter of trust. He asked me, ‘Granit, can you do that?” I said, ‘Yes, why not, although I’ve never played that before.’ Then suddenly I was at left-back.” 

Having lived through some dark days during Arsene Wenger’s final season in charge at Arsenal, the 26-year-old is pleased with the way things are going under Emery, whose meticulous pre-game preparations he credits for the club’s 16-game unbeaten run.

“It’s the best it’s been at Arsenal since I came to this club,” he reflected. “The coach has had an enormous influence. He prepares us all superbly. We have a plan. We know how to implement it with the ball and without the ball. We know how, when and where to stand.

“Emery is like Lucien Favre [his former coach at Borussia Moenchengladbach and current Borussia Dortmund head coach], a freak who pushes us back and forth, ten times until everyone understands what they are doing.”

Xhaka also revealed that the tactics change for every game depending on their opposition. “Exactly,” he noted. “The first video analysis follows right after the game. And then it goes on every day. 30 minutes of video on the game day after breakfast – and then again, before we go to the game.”

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For the full interview, in which Granit also touches on stuff to do with the Swiss national team, see here. We translated the above with the help of Google Translate, if any native speakers feel like we’ve got things slightly wrong, let us know in the comments and we’ll amend

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Goonerink

I miss poldi, aha!

Devlin

I tell a lot of people that legendary status can only be given to players by the fans. A player’s stats don’t mean anything if the fans do not like you. Podolski does not have the stats, trophies or even on pitch performances of Van Persie and Nasri, but he will be held up higher yhan them at Arsenal and his former clubs. I miss his personality and mere presence around the club. He was a bit crazy like Aubameyang and always had a smile on his face. Football really is a funny thing, I am not saying he is… Read more »

MaendTabs

The Aaron Ramsey situation is another situation that mystifies me. Are we genuinely going to let a player with a value between £40 and £50 million pounds in today’s ridiculous markets, walk away for nothing??? If we consider that to be such a paltry sum that we can just write it off then I take it next year’s season ticket renewals will be all free?

Chrispy

I’m sure the opinions are split…. with ‘shite’ on one side and ‘abysmal’ on the other.

I just wish he’d stop the turnovers that lead to an opposition goal… every…single…time.

Emyrates

Yeah, he was abysmal or shite vs Liverpool. Emery has been working with him for a couple of months and the difference is apparent I thought… He still has Wengeritis.

Chrispy

One game……wow

Emyrates

It seems like you’ve watched him for 2 games. He’s been good most of the season, in stark contrast from last season.. and improving. He still has Wengeritis and it takes more than 3 months of work with Emery to completely get rid of it.. if you can’t see the improvement you’re looking at it with hategoggles.

Jean Ralphio

To be fair he had a solid second half of the season under Wenger that too playing in an unfamiliar role. It’s been mentioned in other articles: he needs someone with a Behrami-like energy and defensive mind near him to flourish. We have that in Torreira. Can we support the team now?

Martin

He was one of our best players against Liverpool. If you couldn’t see that then you are totally buased against him. His partnership with Torreira is blossoming and we haven’t lost a match since they’ve combined

Emyrates

lol I meant he wasn’t abysmal or shite vs Liverpool
Chrispy It hasn’t been just “one game”…

BigStick

I think his weakness is arrogance. It was foolishness to think Torreira would just magically be there against Wolves when he let the ball go past him. But what really angered me was how he failed to track his man into the box. If he just stays with his runner, rather then a yard behind him, it’s an easy block and they don’t score that goal. Xhaka needs to wake up. While he may be important, he’s far from irreplaceable. We extended his contract for more then just one reason, he needs to wake up.

SB Still

He has improved but I think he is a player we can improve on.

Devlin

There are no players who bring what he brings, consistently, who aren’t at top clubs. The only way we can improve on him is if we alter our style of play.

Emery in Aubalaca wonderland

Already the best season of his career ? Xhaka is setting the bar low. That’s not what Emery wants.

Faisal Narrage

I liked Clive from Arsenal Vision (a coach)’s explanation for it. That turnover against Wolves was seemingly more Kola’s fault. It’s to do with the type of pass; players are coached to only pass on the favourable side of their team mates. It’s the kind of pass coaches stop mid-session to berate a player if they make it because it’s so wrong and puts players in trouble. Kola’s pass was to Xhaka’s weaker side. It’s a pass so obviously wrong that Xhaka simply must’ve though the pass was to someone else behind him, because he’s thinking “no way would you… Read more »

Francesc

Still don’t think he can take us to the next level

Devlin

Statements like those are funny. They have no target or example of what the supposed next level actually is. It can literally be applied to any player on earth.

viegunner

interesting to see how torn people are about xhaka. i am, too.

Tas_Gunner

Dare say last weeks mistake was basically 90% Kolasinac and 10% Xhaka..He’s been inconsistent aye and did a lot of foolish things before but this season apart from vs wolves he’s been 7/10 every week.so I think he deserves our full backing for now.

Tim Miller

I completely agree. Xhaka is at fault too, but you could excuse him for thinking that dreadful pass was meant for someone behind him. A truly horrible pass it was.

BigStick

You’ve got to be crazy? Kola passes to Xhaka and Xhaka decides to let it go by him without knowing who’s covering? Xhaka dummied the pass, which means he could have easily received it. On top of that mistake, he doesn’t track his man into the box and we go down a goal. That was all on Xhaka, regardless of how bad Kola performed in that game. He needs to wake the hell up, he’s cost us four points in the past two games now.

kaius

Modern football has been defined by runners joining the attack from deep or wide positions. Xhaka is sensational when he’s driving us forward, but for a spinal player he has little sense of the danger developing behind him, and his lack of speed over the first 5 yards mean he can’t recover. Him not tracking runners cost us goal after goal last season, and stepping over Kola’s pass is not an isolated example. The knock-on effect will be Torreira thinking “I can’t play ahead of this guy, he must be in front of me at all times”. If he can’t… Read more »

ScroobiusPip

“It’s the best it’s been at Arsenal since I came to this club,” he reflected.

Oh ffs Arsene how bad did things get??

catbiscuits

players say this every time a new manager joins

do you think he’s going to turn around and say: “on balance, I preferred working with Wenger”?

Nope

Don’t delude yourself. When Bellerin was asked a similar question a few weeks ago, he stated there were differences in each Manager’s approach. An extremely tactful and duplomatic answer.

Xhaka has mearly expressed his opinion from his perspective. Without massaging Wenger or his fan Boy’s egos.

Faisal Narrage

But he isn’t just saying that though, is he?
He’s giving a very specific answer as to why (without the journalist prompting him), focusing on tactical preparation and planning. Over and over again, which ties into what others like Bellerin has said.

And it’s no surprise either, as it was heavily rumoured Xhaka was one of the players frustrated with the lack of direction and instructions in regards to his role on the pitch.

Dino

“It’s the best it’s been at Arsenal since I came to this club,” – Kind of hurts to read this as I have never speak a wrong word about Arsene Wenger. But I believe he is saying from the point of game preparations, his role in team and detailed game plans. To me it just shows how much the players of latter Wenger years needed coaching.

Martin

I hate talking negatively about Wenger but he tried to turn Xhaka into a defensive midfielder which was never his true position. He was a great signing and we are now seeing the best of him as he is playing his true role as he does for Switzerland

Red-Sky

No. his words are clear. Arsenal are better than they were with AW the last 2 years (at least). We can all see it, it’s not just game preparation.
Wenger was terrible on his latest years. Accept that & move on!

BigStick

There’s still a lot of games to be played. Let’s hope we start winning again. It’s far too early to throw Wenger under the bus and crown Emery king. I think we’re a better team right now, but who’s to say we won’t cave in during December? The team is still a bit too similar to last season for my liking.

Tasmanian Jesus

He’s doing better under Emery yeah, has the potential to be the new Pirlo for sure.
But sometime within the next few years and forwards, our midfield pair is gonna be Torreira and Guendouzi. Im pretty sure of that.

Andy

This is a worry.

I wonder what the late great David Rocastle’s or Michael Thomas or Gilberto or Vieira or Edu’s or Marwood or Armstrong or Storey or Petit or Graham or any other Arsenal’s midfielders best ever season was.

It wasn’t NOT challenging for the title or even struggling to get into the top four.

It was being fucking CHAMPIONS!!!!

kaius

This is the problem I have with people describing Xhaka as a “great” player. Let’s remember that we have sky-high standards at this club, and not get too used to grading players on a curve.

Bob hard as McNab

The very mention of Geordie Armstrong deserves a million up votes in my eyes!

Mpls

Yes, everything is shit. Let’s wallow in it.

Olivije Žirod

Xhaka has always been great for us. In the first two seasons he had two rough patches and both in winter. The biggest difference is he has Torreira beside him now who will fix 90% of his mistakes and are not so visible and decisive. That will make more confident and even better. He is already one of the best in the world in playing that role. But no one can and will convince me that he is good only this season because he has always been great at doing things that he is supposed to do. His Job is… Read more »

catbiscuits

“He has been a victim of his strenght – discipline.”

Thanks for that, gave me a good laugh!

Olivije Žirod

Positional discipline*

Segun

Well said, Olivije. Xhaka has always been good for Arsenal, since joining and is what you’ll refer to as a constitutional player, who just does the job assigned as well as he can; they type of player every coach likes to have and no wonder he played every league game (all 38) last season, under Wenger while, despite the expectations of most fans, he has started every league game under Emery. Improvements observed this season is down to the new structure of the team with Torreira (scouted from April and deal agreed before World Cup, so a Mislintat/Wenger buy) and… Read more »

kaius

Xhaka appearing in all 38 games of our worst season in recent memory is not actually a compliment.

He was great against Liverpool because he played like a proper two-way player, responsible in defence, and creative with his attacking passes along with his usual high pass completion rate. We barely saw that player last year.

The Wolves game alone proved that Torreira cannot fix Xhaka’s mistakes – he’s gonna have to do that all by himself to become a truly great player.

Segun

To be the only player from a squad of 25 (at least), to play every league game is not uncomplimentary either, irrespective of the team’s placing. It’s not his fault he’s joined during a spell when the fans were generating some negative energy at games and on social media. The fact is Xhaka’s numbers have only improved slightly from last season (Tackles: 78, success rate of 73%; passes per game of 82; success rate of 80+%; long range passes, interceptions, etc.), so he’s been doing the same thing all this time but has become more pivotal this season because we… Read more »

Goonerink

Also, people complaining the he didn’t get a yard on the attacking player seem to think agility is one of xhakas strengths as much as concentration being a weakness.
He was never going to catch him, stationary start vs a running start, attacker vs deep lying mid.

Segun

True that. He did manage to catch and tackle Mo’ Salah though. Caught me by surprise there. ?

Devlin

Xhaka’s mistakes last season were more of the fault of the team’s tactics than his own doing. The stat of his errors fails to take into account that teams targeted Xhaka at the start of last season. All 3 of his errors were in the first 5 games of last season because teams called Arsenal’s bluff of sending players as high as possible and leaving Xhaka alone in midfield. He had an error against Leicester because they man marked him and no one came deep to help him out, another against Everton where the very same thing happened and then… Read more »

kaius

Lol no, Xhaka failing to track back or recover last season had nothing to do with fans generating bad vibes on social media. In this article Granit tells us how the difference in preparation between Wenger and Emery has helped him and the team improve. This time last year the players had a dressing room meeting and said they needed more help from the coaching staff. Read between the lines. We can be tough on Xhaka because he has the potential to be great and great players don’t need their flaws sugar-coated. I agree we exposed him too much last… Read more »

Segun

You have managed to twist my statement to achieve the narrative you desire. You also managed to misquote Xhaka and put it down to reading between the lines….. you see how it works?

kaius

How could I misquote Xhaka when I didn’t quote him? I paraphrased him. There’s a difference.

Rich

He’s a really brave player who I like, and Torreira compliments his well.
Whilst I wouldn’t turn my nose up at a upgrade with better concentration levels and more athleticism, I think a centre half, a Winger and a Monreal successor are of a more pressing concern.

No Longer Laughing Stock

I think a lot of people have written him off too soon. Things went to tits up under wenger I think it was pointless rating any of the players until they’d had some time under the new regime. So far under Unai there’s undoubtedly an improvement with Xhaka, early days and we would be better judging after a season. But I think there’s a player in there, and without a shadow of doubt he loves playing for the club and that in itself is a great start.

Cheeses

Well he just said it’s the best phase of the club since he’s been there. Which is true if we look at our unbeaten run.

Olivije Žirod

We were unbeaten for 14 league games in a row in the season when he came and in reality it will actually be tough to match points this season with that one.

Jason daniels

You have cost us 4 points so far. Stop being so sloppy

nullvinho

If this is the best season of his career, bring me the head of the guy who convinced us to pay 35 mill for him.

George

He has impressed me this season.

Faisal Narrage

““He just wants to create competition for Ricardo Rodriguez”

Yeah, you will have to cover for Ricardo sometimes. You know, when he comes to Arsenal that is.

John

Looking at the premier leagues own stats Xhaka has made 6 errors this season leading to goals. That’s compared to Mustafi 2, Bellerin 1 and Torreira 0. On the other hand he’s created 6 big chances according to the same stats and scored two lovely free kicks. So offensively he’s probably right, it is his best season so far but defensively he’s been poor. I think he’s more of a number 10 type player who’s being asked to defend more than he’s comfortable with it.

santori

Stats are what you wzant people to see. What constitute errors leading to goals. A lot of times, these statisticians will count errors by certain players but ignore others. Last season for example, Monreal was culpable for a number of poor positionings leading to goals but the ‘conventional wisdom’ chose to ignore this entirely. INstead they tend to focus on certain favorite targets. Mustafi for example made a poor pass on one game across field which did not reach Bellerin on the other side. This would have been counted by these statisticians as an error leading to a goal. BUT… Read more »

santori

What he is so vital to the team in is he is able to switch the focus of our attack very quickly. He sits in the middle splaying passes from left to right and his accuracy at range transitions our point of attack quicker. This is something not appreciated by the casual observer who is only keen on repeating nonsense from the media in viewing him only as a ‘defensive liability’. Most people are soft in the head and do not bother to watch a player’s strength and weakness in detail. In any case this stats thing is nonsense. As… Read more »

John

Join the discussion…Hi Santori, whilst I take your point about blindly following stats its been obvious since Xhaka joined that he struggles defensively. There have been many examples over the last two seasons alone where he is unaware of opposition players around him in the box, or where he hasn’t tracked players running past him, the Wolves goal being the latest. Whist that isn’t so damaging if he had the number 10 role , being Torreiras partner, means he has to at least do the basics well. I agree his distribution aids the team greatly but he costs us goals… Read more »