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.”
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