Granit Xhaka was a marked man before he came to England. With four dismissals over the last two club seasons, Arsenal fans were aware they were bringing in a talented passer and midfield destroyer, but also a man who had trouble staying on the pitch.
That has manifested itself in the Premier League, and has been maybe even exacerbated.
With his second straight red card of the season, Xhaka’s disciplinary issues are a hindrance to the Gunners and leaves Arsene Wenger with a big decision to make – to continue Xhaka’s selection in the matchday squad when he returns from suspension, or leave him on the sidelines as to not risk again falling down to 10 men.
Over the last 2-1/2 calendar years dating back to the start of the 2014/15 Bundesliga season when he was with Borussia Monchengladbach, Xhaka has been sent off six times in league play, once in the Europa League, and another for his international team during 2018 World Cup qualifying this past summer. The league record alone is more than any other player in the top 5 European leagues.
While obviously the sheer numbers are a major issue, the true problem is in the eye test. Xhaka isn’t learning from his mistakes. No, his dismissal against Burnley wasn’t the most malicious of challenges, but it was a textbook straight red card. The Swiss international passed the ball straight to Steven Defour, and long after the Burnley midfielder unloaded the ball to a teammate, Xhaka went lunging in with both feet showing studs, forcing referee Jon Moss to show him the showers after a quick conference with the assistant referee who was in perfect position to make the call.
If the 24-year-old wishes to find his way back to the field in Arsenal colors, he needs to start learning from his actions, or he will end up on the bench, either through suspension or selection. It nearly cost Arsenal a chance at second place against Burnley, with the Clarets energized by their man advantage. He has four domestic matches to think about what he’s done.
Honduras did the United States a favor by taking a point from visiting Costa Rica in Tuesday’s CONCACAF World Cup qualifier in San Pedro Sula.
Anthony Lozano pushed a 35th minute chance past an indecisive Keylor Navas, as Los Catrachos set the stage for a hopeful three points.
[ STREAM: T&T-Mexico, Panama-USMNT ]
Vancouver Whitecaps center back Kendall Waston’s haphazard defending helped allow the goal, but he scored off a late Costa Rica corner kick to ensure Costa Rica will finish the international break in second place.
With four points, Honduras moves ahead of Trinidad and Tobago and the United States before both sides play Tuesday.
Costa Rica beat the U.S. 4-0 in 2016, while the Yanks battered Honduras 6-0 on Friday.
France and Spain used the Video Assistant Referee program on Tuesday in a friendly, and the French likely rue that decision.
Antoine Griezmann had an incorrectly allowed goal reverse for offside, while Gerard Deulofeu saw an initially ruled offside goal allowed upon review in Spain’s 2-0 win over France.
[ MORE: Bolivia stuns Messi-less Argentina ]
Here’s an example, as Griezmann’s barely offside goal was overturned in less than a minute (Both calls took less than a minute to decide):
At the risk of sounding like a caveman, I really don’t like these razor thin offside calls being subject to review.
When you consider the improbability of timing the moment of contact with the ball — how many times have you seen a freeze frame conveniently used to make a case? — it just seems to mess with the spirit of sport.
What do you think?
Argentina took steps backward Tuesday in its pursuit of a 2018 World Cup berth, on and off the field.
It started as Lionel Messi was suspended four matches for verbally abusing a referee in Argentina’s Friday win over Chile.
Then La Albiceleste made another move in reverse with a shocking 2-0 loss to Bolivia in La Paz. Argentina started Sergio Aguero, Paulo Dybala, and Ezequiel Lavezzi on the bench in what many presumed to be an easy win.
[ MORE: Three keys for USA v Panama ]
Juan Carlos Arce and Marcelo Martins scored as ninth-place La Verde picked up its third win of qualifying with a win over powerful Argentina.
The bad news kept coming for Argentina (and Everton), as Ramiro Funes Mori left the match in the 36th minute with injury.
Bolivia will finish the international break at least 10 points back of the playoff spot, while Argentina could finish as low as that fifth-place spot.
CONCACAF’s bottom three sides in the Hex standings look to make the table incredibly tight as World Cup qualifying finds three-straight matches on the docket beginning at 5 p.m. EDT.
Honduras vs. Costa Rica
Los Catrachos were creamed 6-0 by the U.S. on Friday, and return home hoping a wounded Costa Rica remains vulnerable. Honduras is dead last on goal differential, but three points would be huge and put them level with Los Ticos. Costa Rica won its first two matches before falling to Mexico on Friday.
Trinidad and Tobago vs. Mexico
El Tri has two wins and a draw from their first three Hex matches, and will be without Rafa Marquez on Tuesday. A win guarantees Mexico the top spot heading into the next round of matches in June. The Soca Warriors surprised some with their 1-0 win over visiting Panama on Tuesday. Mexico is a different class.
Panama vs. USMNT
Despite its miserable start, the U.S. can find itself as high as second with a win and help from Honduras. The injuries remain plenty for the Yanks, who are without Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood, Sebastian Lletget, and John Brooks. Panama has allowed just a single goal through three Hex matches, but also has only managed one.