Mikel Arteta admits Granit Xhaka ‘lost it’ during Sunday night’s defeat to Burnley but he wouldn’t be drawn into criticising a player whose professionalism he admires.
While the boss labelled the Swiss midfielder’s latest red card ‘unacceptable’ after the 1-0 defeat, he seemed keen, despite the player’s infuriating stupidity, not to stick the knife in.
Having been very harsh in the heat of the moment on Nicolas Pepe, who was sent off for violent conduct at Leeds a few weeks ago, his calm reaction raised a few eyebrows.
Facing the press ahead of Wednesday’s game with Southampton, Arteta continued in the same vein, perhaps recognising that hammering individuals while the squad’s confidence is low is not the best policy.
“He [Granit] has [had a few rocky moments] and he’s not the only one,” said the boss.
“There’s a lot of players who have had rocky moments. What I can say about Granit is that his professionalism and his commitment with the club and with his teammates is maximum.
“He knows and we know that he had a moment where he lost it and I know the reason why, but what I cannot do is just throw everything that he has done away just because he made a mistake.
“We have all made mistakes and I am here as well to protect the players when I see that they deserve that and for sure, Granit is one of them for the way he approaches every training session and the way he wants to do things in the right way all the time and the professional that he is.”
The boss was also asked if Xhaka had apologised to his teammates, something Pepe was quick to do via a message on social media.
“Whatever happens internally, I’m sorry but we cannot discuss,” he replied. “It’s been resolved internally and this is what I can say.”
After it was put to him that no club has received more red cards in the time he’s been Arsenal’s main man in the dugout, Arteta went on to defend his players’ discipline.
“Well, we’ve had six red cards since I joined and only two have been discipline: Pepe and Granit. The rest, there have been two late tackles. One with Eddie against Leicester and the one against Palace, which was Auba. And then the other ones, there were two actions when a player was going through on goal and the defender is trying to prevent a goal. So they are not six disciplinary red cards. There have been two and those two have been dealt with.”
We’re probably not the first to point this out, but Xhaka’s narrative arc really tallies with the club’s 2020. He looked done and dusted after his falling out with the fans in late 2019, found redemption under Mikel Arteta – for whom he played an important role in our FA Cup success – and now, in the eyes of many supporters, is back to making the same frustrating mistakes.
It’s tiring writing about it, so god knows what it’s like for him living it.