It’s no secret that Wenger’s purchase of Granit Xhaka has split Arsenal fans down the middle. It’s one of those tales of a player that has a wealth of talent and promise but struggles to showcase it sufficiently.
His arrival was a typical, sneaky Arsenal acquisition. One that was off everyone’s radar in 2016 and expectations were unrealistically high.
He then fell foul of various referees in his debut season by upending players with the type of reckless challenges that were more common in a pub football team on a murky Sunday Afternoon.
The ball often seemed secondary to the player but this was probably the result of overzealous commitment, admirable enthusiasm and the desire to make his mark, almost literally.
Many Premier League players were left spread eagle and rubbing their shins as Xhaka tried desperately to justify his £30 Million plus price tag. Things reached their peak as the unnecessary challenges mounted up and the critics tore him to shreds.
Wenger resorted to pulling him from the team as they both worked tirelessly to curb his ‘devil may care’ attitude and heavy footed tendencies. As a result of those early displays, many thought Wenger had bought a duff defensive midfielder.
Xhaka was thought to be, by some, as incapable of surviving the thrust of the PL and that he may even be moved on rather swiftly. Fast forward to 2017 and it appears that Wenger’s patience may actually be paying off to a degree.
I’m not claiming he has done enough just yet to merit rapturous applause or that he is even the finished article, but he has made significant progress from last season to this.
Xhaka is a solid enough, intelligent player who can clog a ball over distance to stretch a net but he lacked composure in possession as he searched for a way to cope with a new League and team.
However, his recent performance against Chelsea, in particular, showed that he could be counted on in battle and tough it out for the team alongside Aaron Ramsey, who always puts in a shift.
Let’s hope that this particular partnership develops and Ramsey’s gutsy performances rub off on the relative newcomer. On the strength of the Chelsea clash, you would also hope that both are not subject to the chopping and changing from week to week.
Xhaka may yet prove to be the answer to the riddle, that of the combative midfielder that can assist a leaky defence. He is more than capable and has an exquisite vision, able to provide balls over the top from a distance to the feet of a teammate but it’s his defensive abilities that need care and attention.
So far, he has resisted the temptation to clatter an advancing striker or bounce an opponent face first into the turf and long may it continue. Wenger can iron out the rough spots in anyone’s game and mould them into the complete player.
But with the clock ticking on his own tenure, he needs to work at a frantic pace to bring about the desired results, which is more than he is normally comfortable with. Xhaka is one of those players like Petite, who often works hard without grabbing the headlines. All he has to do is understand that work on the negatives and the positives will be obvious, even to those of us that thought he was a misfit.