Arteta backs Xhaka, says Arsenal ‘must take the bullets’

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Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has backed Granit Xhaka after his red card in the 1-0 defeat to Burnley on Sunday, and added that he and his Arsenal players must ‘take the bullets’ as their awful form continues.

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Arteta has received the dreaded vote of confidence from Arsenal’s technical directer Edu, as many fans are now questioning the former Arsenal midfielder just 12 months into his reign.

Arsenal currently sit in 15th place in the Premier League table, five points off the relegation zone, and they’re 10 points behind fourth-place Southampton.

Ahead of their home game against the Saints on Wednesday (watch live, 1pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), the Gunners are looking to avoid a fifth-straight home defeat in the league.

Arteta believes he and his team must accept their current situation and come out swinging.

“This is our reality right now and we have to face it by being brave, fighting and no one giving up. It’s not time to hide – it’s time to put your face and your body on the line,” Arteta said. “At the moment, I’m sorry, but we have to take the bullets. We are not winning football matches and you have to put your chest there. Hit me, because you have the right to hit me because we are not winning. What else can I do? Put my head down, work harder, and try to improve.” 

On Xhaka and his red card for grabbing the throat of Burnley midfielder Ashley Westwood, Arteta dialled back his criticism of the Swiss midfielder.

Previously he said Xhaka’s actions were ‘unacceptable’ and had cost Arsenal the game. But just like Nicolas Pepe’s silly red card a few weeks ago against Leeds, Arteta has now said he will support his player.

“It [his red card] has been resolved internally. There is a lot of players who have had rocky moments,” Arteta said. “What I can say about Granit is his professionalism and his commitment with the club and with his team is maximal. He knows and we all know that he had a moment where he’s lost it and I know the reason why.

“But what I cannot do is throw everything he has done away because he’s made a mistake. We all make mistakes and I am here to protect the players when I see that they deserve it. For sure Granit is one of them for the way that he approaches every training session, the way he wants to do everything the right way and the professional that he is.”

Praising Xhaka’s professionalism seems to be a little rich, as he has been sent off multiple times since arriving at Arsenal in 2016 and he was stripped of the captaincy just over 12 months ago after swearing at Arsenal fans who jeered him off the pitch when he was substituted.

Asked if Arsenal are in a relegation battle, Arteta preferred to call it a ‘blip’ and hoped it wasn’t more serious.

“I would say that we are in a blip and the way we are losing football matches makes me believe that. But we need to start to win, because if not, you start dropping and dropping in the table and obviously that is not the situation that we want to be in,” Arteta said.

Here are the three biggest issues Arteta is facing at Arsenal right now:

  1. He doesn’t know his best team and is chopping and changing the lineup each week, while Mesut Ozil isn’t even a squad member.
  2. His team are having a lot of the ball but aren’t putting the few chances away that they do create.
  3. Arsenal’s defensive tactics aren’t getting the best out of the talented players they have.

There are a lot of problems on and off the pitch for Arteta to solve, but the main thing he needs to focus on is simple: beating Southampton on Wednesday.