Granit Xhaka

Xhaka slams ‘bulls***’ criticism of Arsenal

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Arsenal have been targets for a lot of criticism recently.

Granit Xhaka is usually at the center of it.

The Gunners captain came out all guns blazing after they lost 1-0 at Sheffield United on Monday, as he addressed Patrice Evra‘s comments that Arsenal are “babies” and always will be due to their mentality.

“We have to stop about mental [strength] bulls*** like this. For me, it is the same whether you play home or away – you have to win and show big character and a good game and not to always find the same excuse,” Xhaka said. “A lot of people they speak too much. It is not the first time he has spoken something about us. I have a lot of respect for him as he was a great player but you have to be careful what you say. But it is not only him – a lot of people speak a lot of bulls*** about us. It’s always the same.

“For me it is strange as they were in the same situation as us, they were players as well. Sometimes it is good and sometimes it is not always good but every week they speak bulls*** like this every week. I tell you the honest truth, I’m not interested in what people say and speak. We have to speak in our group to improve things and work hard and not listen to these people.”

Xhaka and Arsenal have only lost twice this season, 3-1 at Liverpool and 1-0 at Sheffield United.

But aside from being fifth in the table and two points outside the top four, pressure is being placed on Unai Emery and his squad as they’ve narrowly beaten Bournemouth, Burnley, Newcastle and Aston Villa so far. Their performances aren’t instilling confidence in anyone that they can seriously push for a top four finish this season.

Has much changed under Emery in the past 15 months? Nope. This is pretty much the same Arsenal team making the same old mistakes and looking vulnerable away from home. Nothing new here. Sure, some new players have arrived, but David Luiz, Pepe and Sokratis have all been hit and miss so far and it has been left to Matteo Guendouzi and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to try and rescue the Gunners each and every week.

Emery was supposed to change their style of play, develop them into a stronger team defensively and improve their chances of challenging for trophies once again.

None of that has happened, and it doesn’t look closer to happening. That is why the critics are circling around the Gunners. Monday was the perfect opportunity to prove their mentality had changed and they are a stronger, more balanced team under Emery. They aren’t and something drastic will have to change for them if Emery is going to win over the fans, and pundits, once again.

Sheffield United beat Arsenal with stellar defensive display (video)

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Sheffield United secured a signature victory on Monday, upending Arsenal, one of the Premier League‘s big boys, 1-0 at Bramall Lane.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Lys Mousset scored the only goal of the game midway through the first half, and Chris Wilder‘s side put forth a defensive clinic to frustrate the Gunners and wrap up their fourth clean sheet of the still-young season.


3 things we learned

  1. Arsenal’s midfield needs a shakeupGranit Xhaka, Matteo Guendouzi and Joe Willock is a thoroughly industrious midfield trio, only lacking someone with the tactical discipline to hold position in front of the backline. All three are at their best when on the ball and pushing forward, which too often leaves the (shaky in its own right) defense far too exposed.
  2. Sheffield United rock-solid defensively — For a newly promoted side to come up and hold the joint-best defensive record (7 goals conceded in 9 games, tied with Liverpool) in the PL is no small accomplishment. The Blades were just short of impenetrable on Monday, allowing just nine shots (three on target) to one of the big-six sides.
  3. No Plan B for Arsenal — Given the speed they possess on the wings and up front, Arsenal are clearly built to be a counter-attacking team that can punish you at the slightest opening. Against a team like United, though, what happens when the game never opens up and presents those chances? When the game sets up for them, they’re great, but Unai Emery could do with a Plan B. The other option would be to continue dropping points against (with all due respect) much lesser sides.

Man of the Match: Chris Basham


Nicolas Pepe whiffed on the game’s first golden scoring chance in the 21st minute. Sead Kolasinac tore down the left wing and delivered a cross to the top of the six-yard box where Pepe was three yards clear of the nearest defender.

United went ahead right on the half-hour mark, when Mousset tapped the ball home from close range after Oliver Norwood‘s corner kick was headed down by Jack O'Connell. Mousset had worked himself free in the center of the goal mouth and applied the finishing touch from three yards out.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The more desperate Arsenal got in the second half, the tighter United’s defensive hold became. The Gunners managed just two shots from inside the penalty area in the second half, as the Blades’ line of confrontation dropped deeper and deeper and refused service into the box.

The victory sees United climb six spots in the PL table, up to ninth place, now four points clear of the relegation zone. Arsenal, meanwhile, fell to fifth place after entering the weekend third, thanks to victories by Leicester City and Chelsea.

Emery: ‘I want more’ from Arsenal team, attackers

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Unai Emery wants goals from people other than Bukayo Saka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, which sure sounds like a shot at big money signing Nicolas Pepe.

At least that’s all we can gather, considering he started three defensive midfielders as Arsenal drew Manchester United on Monday. Matteo Guendouzi, Granit Xhaka, and Lucas Torreira earned starts. Alexandre Lacazette again missed out through injury.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 1-1 Arsenal ]

Pepe definitely had a poor match. It was a step back from his previous three matches, with a goal and an assist in those, and he certainly missed straight-forward chances to score a second Premier League goal.

“We have young players who can take confidence. (Saka) is progressing well but we need other players too. This is not the best in terms of points but one point can be good if we win next Sunday against Bournemouth. We are very happy with (Aubameyang) and he is with his goal. We need more players with the ability to score.”

Like we wrote, maybe play ’em, Unai. All three of Emery’s subs at Old Trafford were of the playmaking variety: Dani Ceballos, Joe Willock, and Reiss Nelson.

The overall performance showed some progress, said Arsenal’s boss as the Gunners moved back into the Top Four. But it isn’t enough.

“I want more: More in the result and in the performance but we are progressing. We were competitive but we can do better. We can control moments with the ball better and take more chances in the box.”

Report: Granit Xhaka named permanent Arsenal captain

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According to a report by David Ornstein of the BBC, Arsenal coach Unai Emery has named midfielder Granit Xhaka as permanent captain, a position that had been vacant since Laurent Koscielny‘s departure this summer.

The Frenchman had held the position since early 2016 when handed the armband by Arsene Wenger with Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta both in the twilight of their Arsenal careers.

Emery has notably dragged out deciding on who to name as permanent captain despite handing Xhaka the armband in six of their eight matches to this point. Nacho Monreal and Mesut Ozil have also both served as captain once, both coming with Xhaka out of the lineup, although Monreal has since departed the club. Ornstein reports that a vice-captain has not yet been chosen, with strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette both in consideration.

Xhaka, who turns 27 years old today, is considered to be a contentious choice by Emery given his up and down performances for the club since joining from Borussia Monchengladbach in the summer of 2016. His first season was dreadful, with the midfielder twice sent off in his first season of Premier League play. He had raised his level of performance since, proving an important piece of the puzzle last season, but early this season his performances have again dipped, with Gunner fans voicing their displeasure on his withdrawal on 72 minutes in the narrow win over Aston Villa.

Defender Rob Holding confirmed after the Villa win that Emery has presented a group of five players to the rest of the squad to be voted on. “He likes his five captains,” Holding said. “We all did a vote the other week so we’ll see what happens and see who gets named. It was just a case of writing names down and then giving them to the manager and he will go through them – obviously with his input – and we’ll see what happens.”

Holding called it a “good environment” with a lot of players able to “get more input.” He also pointed out David Luiz as someone who has taken up a sort of leadership role.

What should Emery do with Xhaka?

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Arsenal fans have directed their ire at many different people, but aside from manager Unai Emery, many fans have been criticizing the recent play of midfielder Granit Xhaka.

Named Arsenal captain this summer after Laurent Koscielny‘s insubordination and eventual departure, Xhaka looked set to take Arsenal to the next level this summer, with three stars up top and a veteran defense behind him. However, in Premier League matches where Arsenal has struggled, it seems that Xhaka has been right in the middle of it. Sometimes, that’s just because of his holding midfield position. Other times, it’s because he didn’t make the play that was necessary.

[READ: 10-man Arsenal beats Aston Villa in a thriller]

Take Saturday’s eventual 3-2 win by Arsenal over Aston Villa at the Emirates Stadium. Despite having a decent game by all accounts, Xhaka allowed Ahmed El Mohamady to run right past him on a mazy run through the middle of the field, eventually centering to Wesley which gave Aston Villa a 2-1 lead. It gave the visitors the advantage yet again right after Arsenal equalized.

Xhaka had every chance to try and make a tackle, or at the least bring El Mohamady down farther from goal if there was no choice but to foul and give up a free kick. Instead, Xhaka just followed El Mohamady before passing him off to a teammate in the box, who was equally as poor.

Not long after, Xhaka was substituted, with some Arsenal fans raining boos down on their captain. And whether it had to do with him or not, Arsenal went from a goal down to a goal up once Xhaka left the field.

According to manager Unai Emery, Xhaka was taken off in the 72nd minute not due to his performance, but to bring on fresh legs. It was a double substitution, with Dani Ceballos also coming off in place of Lucas Torreira and Joe Willock.

“My opinion is we need our supporters and we need our supporters helping each player but our responsibility is to transmit our capacity, our spirit, our commitment and behavior,” Emery said after the game. “And Xhaka is doing that. He played very well on Thursday and also last week in Watford he played with a good individual performance. Today I changed him because on Thursday he played 90 minutes and prefer to use fresh players for today a chance for him but for me Xhaka is very good player for us. He has a very big commitment here. He is improving and I am not asking the people to support him but I am sure that he is going to achieve the best thing individually and collectively for the supporters to help him.”

Just one week earlier, Xhaka claimed that his Arsenal teammates – and presumably himself as well – were “scared” in the second half as Watford stormed back for a 2-2 draw. Man City’s 8-0 pummeling of Watford makes that draw look even worse in retrospect.

If Arsenal is “scared,” and they’re giving up two goals in two straight matches each to two of the worst defensive teams in the league, then perhaps the club captain isn’t doing enough. It seems that although Xhaka has experience, he’s going through a rough patch of form in the Premier League – he looked good in Europa League action – and might do well with a match off.

Luckily for Arsenal, if Emery does agree to give Xhaka a rest, he has a talented player in Lucas Torreira who will run himself into the ground for the team. In addition, he’d likely have stopped that run from El Mohamady instead of letting him glide into the box with hardly a challenge.

It appears Unai Emery is publicly sticking with Xhaka. Arsenal needs Xhaka at his best to make it back into the top four. But right now, he’s clearly not there, and he needs to figure things out on the training pitch so he can shine once again.