Mikel Arteta says Granit Xhaka “forgot” how to play his position at Arsenal and needed something to be unlocked in his “brain” in order to thrive.
- Swiss star was a holding midfielder
- Now provides an attacking threat
- Delivered on demands of his boss
WHAT HAPPENED? The Switzerland international has been doing just that in 2022-23, with a more advanced role at Emirates Stadium allowing him to register three goals and as many assists for the Premier League leaders. Xhaka was considered to be more of a holding midfielder heading into the current campaign, but Arteta believes the combative 30-year-old had lost his way somewhat and needed to redefine himself in order to form part of an ambitious project in north London.
WHAT THEY SAID: Arteta has told Sky Sports of the evolution in Xhaka’s game: “I think it was a necessity. I think the squad wanted to evolve to another level and be more dominant and have more resources in the final third to attack and to score more goals. We needed to make that change. I spoke to him at the end of the season and said, ‘I need to unlock something in your brain because you’re so comfortable and confident playing in this area that you have forgot what is actually going to win us the game and the team now demands somebody here, so unless you unlock that I’m going to have to do something about it’.”
THE BIGGER PICTURE: Arteta added on seeing Xhaka embrace the challenges put to him: “He took it straight away. He’s a very intelligent player, he came to pre-season fitter than ever, slimmer than ever, and he knew that if we wanted to take the team to a different level we had to change his role. He knew that was coming. We believed he has those qualities, those qualities were there to be exploited and they were hiding. The team needed those qualities very much. As I said, he is extremely intelligent, and he has the physical capacity to constant threaten and occupy those spaces and recover his position quickly enough to have the balance we need.
“He’s been really consistent, the way he trains, the way he practises, to evolve to the demands we want for the team. He’s a special person. He’s very straight, he’s very honest, he’s very loyal and he’s very passionate about what he does. So when you have someone like that you want to help him, you want to protect him, you want him to fulfil the talent he has. He’s made some mistakes and he’s learnt from it, but he has always faced adversity and difficulty and he’s never run away from it.”
WHAT NEXT? Xhaka had appeared destined to leave Arsenal at one stage, after enduring a public falling-out with Gunners supporters, but he has played his way back into favour and is now something of a cult hero for a fan base daring to dream that more major honours can be chased down under Arteta.