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Granit Xhaka released at Arsenal after Mikel Arteta granted midfielder ‘freedom’

Previously, during his time at Arsenal, the midfielder, at times through no fault of his own, has been a lightning rod for criticism.

Now, however, Xhaka is in full swing and his goal and assist in the Gunners’ 4-2 win over Leicester City on Saturday reinforced the idea that he is playing arguably his best football since arriving in the north of London.

The key to all of this is freedom, both on and off the pitch.

On the pitch, that release manifests in a new role for Xhaka. Previously, he was usually asked to play deep, often sitting alongside another central midfielder in front of the defence.

Last season that started to change with the Swiss international operating as one of two ‘No8s’ ahead of Thomas Partey.

Even then, Xhaka lacked the license he now has to advance and it was telling that in the first half on Saturday he had three touches in the opposition box – leveling the entire Leicester side.

The arrival of Oleksandr Zinchenko changed Xhaka’s role. The Ukraine international plays at left-back, but in possession of Mikel Arteta he pushed high and hidden to join midfield with fellow full-back Ben White.

This means that at times in possession Arsenal play almost a 2-3-5, with Xhaka and Martin Odegaard pushed high up the pitch to join the front line.

“I spoke with the coach before the season and he told me that I had more freedom than last season,” Xhaka said.

“I can move, not where I want because I have to have a lot of discipline to move for Alex [Zinchenko] and [Gabriel] Martinelli too.

“I have more freedom to go up and down. I know I can do this. I have a lot of freedom vis-à-vis the coach, my teammates.

“At the moment I’m happy with how everything is going. Let’s keep working like this and hope that at the end of the season we can be more than satisfied.

“It’s always good when you score and it’s always good when you can help the team – not just me, but all the players did a great job today. I’m more than happy to help, sure.

The freedom Xhaka enjoys also extends off the pitch, where he has spoken out on several occasions over the last 12 or so months about the abuse he has suffered on social media.

Xhaka is playing the best football of his career at Arsenal

/ Getty Images

For so long the midfielder suffered in silence but by opening up to the general public he changed the perception around him.

Now those who may have abused Xhaka in the past will think twice and the 29-year-old has emerged as a key figure in football’s fight against social media hate.

He seems liberated to have spoken out, perhaps surprised by the largely positive feedback he has received for it, and the positivity around Xhaka is indicative of the general mood at Arsenal at the moment.

Over the past few years there has been an undercurrent of discontent and a sense that the bond between supporters and the club has been fractured.

Slowly but surely this is changing under Arteta and the revival of Xhaka is proof of that.


standard Sport

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