LONDON — Granit Xhaka has insisted that Arsenal can still win the Premier League despite dropping points in demoralizing fashion in their last two games.
[ MORE: Reaction, analysis from West Ham 2-2 Arsenal ]
A 2-2 draw at West Ham on Sunday followed the same result at Liverpool last weekend and this is the first time in Arsenal’s Premier League history they’ve failed to win in back-to-back games when they have had a two-goal lead in each.
Arsenal are only the fifth team in Premier League history to do that and their lead atop the Premier League table has now been cut to just four points as second-place Manchester City have a game in-hand on them and host Arsenal in a huge title showdown on April 26.
After flying into a 2-0 lead inside the first 10 minutes at West Ham they conceded either side of half time, missed a penalty kick to go 3-1 up and almost lost the game late on.
Sound familiar? Pretty much exactly the same happened at Liverpool. So, what is happening to the Gunners?
Xhaka admits similar issues impacting Arsenal
“It is not about the mentality, for sure not,” Granit Xhaka told reporters in the tunnel area of London Stadium, defiantly. “You are 2-0 up, you give the game away. This is football. You can score [to make it] 3-1, five minutes later you concede and it’s 2-2. I think after 2-0 we stopped a little bit to play. Why? I don’t know. It was a bit similar to Liverpool away. Obviously, started very well, scored, two goals as well. If you score the 3-1 then maybe the game is totally different but it is part of football.”
Xhaka admitted the way Arsenal conceded was “too easy” but he isn’t too concerned by defensive mistakes and second half dips costing them what looked like surefire wins.
“We have to see the game, to analyze the game and see what this happened twice in a row. I am not worried too much,” Xhaka said. “Some of the things we go through this season, going to the last eight games without dropping any points or winning and smashing teams, I think we are not in the right position. Nothing changed before the game. We know we will go first at home against Southampton and after to the Etihad with the same objective like we had before the game today.”
Togetherness needed as Gunners enter final stretch
Xhaka did not want to say the words out loud: ‘if we win our final seven games of the season we will be Premier League champions’ but he basically did.
“If something is not going well it is easy to point the finger to someone else. Now it is time to be together. Seven games to go. We took this challenge until now. Nobody was thinking about this at the beginning of the season so let’s take the challenge as well,” Xhaka explained.
“I am not angry. I am disappointed, of course. We had the chance today after the 2-0 to take the three points. This is football. You can’t win the games if you don’t perform over 90 minutes. We didn’t do that today. But we still have everything in our hands. If we win the next games, you know what happens.”
With so much focus on Manchester City, who have won six-straight Premier League games to close the gap and also put the title in their own hands, Xhaka said Arsenal aren’t focusing on Pep Guardiola’s red-hot side.
“It is okay. We are not looking to them,” Xhaka said. “Let’s win our games first and if we win the rest of the games or we don’t drop points you guys know better than me what happens after 38 games.”
What kind of reaction will we see?
Simply put, Arsenal have to cut out these defensive mistakes which are costing them points.
They are switching off through what looks like sheer boredom, as they are dominating games so much in the first half that they are just losing concentration for a split second and that is all it takes to drop points in the Premier League.
“I am sure you guys will see a reaction from our side on Friday,” Xhaka added.
On Friday they host bottom of the table Southampton (watch live, 3pm ET on USA Network and online via NBCSports.com) and nothing but a win is expected as they can open up a seven-point lead ahead of their game at Man City, albeit having played two more league games than City.
All eyes will be on how Arsenal react on Friday but also on Bukayo Saka. The 21-year-old looked understandably distraught as he missed a penalty kick which would have surely sealed the win at West Ham but Xhaka showed his leadership skills to rally around one of Arsenal’s star youngsters.
“If Friday is another penalty, I will push him [Bukayo Saka] to take it again,” Xhaka said. “This guy is so young. He is so strong mentally. We are not worried about him. Of course he was very disappointed, like all of the team. But it is not about him, it is not like we say ‘if he scored the game is finished.’ No, no, no. We have another 10 players on the pitch. He needs our support maybe more than before now. He is young, it is one more experience for his future but I think he is so strong mentally that he will show a reaction on Friday.”