OI! OI! It’s not the ballet, is it?

OPINION: Why Granit Xhaka is the poster boy of this wretched and unfinished period in Arsenal’s history

Thursday, 14th April — By Richard Osley

Granit Xhaka

IF you wanted to sum up Arsenal’s late Wenger and post-Wenger decline, you can probably do it with just a photograph of Granit Xhaka looking shocked that he has been shown a red card for something obviously deserving of a red card.

In a fairly ludicrous interview this week with the Players Tribune, he was asked whether some of the supporters’ frustration with him was perhaps the fact he got so many red cards, often at the worst possible moments.

“Listen, the cards have always been part of my game,” he said. “They were in Germany, too. Remember the 50-50? I’m all in, and it’s the same in training. If I elbow a player, I’ll be the first one to say, ’I’m sorry.’ But a tackle? Come on, guys. This is not ballet.”

So the next time he departs a game needlessly early – my bet would be the north London derby at the end of season – we all simply need to shrug our shoulders and say: ‘Hey… it’s not ballet.’ Conversely, Wenger’s greatest teams were full of balletic grace.

Xhaka is just a big set of boots, but Wenger, then Unai Emery and then Mikel Arteta all made sure they put down Xhaka’s name first when compiling their teamsheet each week. And yet ‘The Xhaka Years’ have coincided with Arsenal rarely looking like they will return to the Champions League, let alone muster a full on tilt for the league title.

Xhaka in a way is the poster boy of this wretched and unfinished period in which Arsenal can lose to both Crystal Palace and Brighton in less than a week, as soon as minuscule pressure is applied by the teams around them in the league.

Xhaka, of course, threw his Arsenal shirt down after being booed off once in 2019 and it looked like he was finally on his way, but, like a shot supervillain, he’s never quite gone.

Last summer, he teased and tantalised us with the idea of him joining Roma – only for Arteta to remember the law that states every Arsenal manager must love him as if he’s Zidane and keep him in the team.

It will be a seminal day Xhaka finally does leave: no more red cards, no more silly penalties given away, no more midfield battles lost. I think he gets the drift though,

“I would like us to have a better relationship [with the fans],” he said in that interview. “I would like us to understand each other better. I understand that we will never be best friends, but I hope we can treat each other with honesty and respect.”

He added: “Yes, for 90 minutes I am Granit Xhaka, Arsenal midfielder. But the rest of the week I’m just a Swiss guy living in London with his wife and two kids.” Ninety, if you stay on the pitch.

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