Despite the praise Arsenal’s young players have deservedly received this season, Granit Xhaka has gone unnoticed.
That’s usually not the case for Xhaka, who has so often been a lightning rod for criticism during his time at Arsenal and at the center of many trouble spots.
This season, however, those moments have been rare. There was his red card at Manchester City in the first month of the season and his sending off at Anfield in the Carabao Cup semi-finals, but other than that Xhaka’s campaign was largely uneventful by his standards.
On top of that, the 29-year-old is back to his best form and he should head to West Ham on Sunday with confidence, especially after his excellent goal in last weekend’s win over Manchester United.
“I dreamed about it because he deserved it,” said Mikel Arteta.
“If every fan or individual has spent five, ten minutes with Granit – or even two minutes is enough – they will understand the person he is, the professional he is and how much he cares for the club.”
Xhaka stepped up at a crucial time for Arsenal and his performances were key to last week’s wins over Chelsea and Manchester United.
Originally, when Kieran Tierney suffered a knee injury earlier this month and was ruled out for the rest of the season, Xhaka was moved from midfield to left-back to cover for the Scot.
Arteta explained that Xhaka’s stats playing there were very encouraging, but it was clear that, without Thomas Partey either, Arsenal lacked a midfield presence.
Xhaka’s return to the middle of the park coincided with the Gunners’ turnaround from three straight defeats and they are now fourth in the Premier League, two points clear of rivals Tottenham in fifth.
At a time when Arsenal were shaking, Xhaka offered stability. He quietly did his job in midfield, keeping things neat and tidy so the young players in front of him could flourish.
“What we need is some balance in everything we do,” Arteta said. “Especially with the characters and personalities that are part of this team.
“With the youngsters and the players from the academy that we bring, with the signings that we made, with the qualities that we had.
“So how can we interact, how can this restoration start to build what we want to be on and off the pitch, and Granit, in my opinion, was a key role, and he was going to have a key leadership role in realizing what we wanted.”
Xhaka may no longer be the armband at Arsenal, but he remains a leader in the dressing room. Last summer it looked like that might not be the case as Roma worked hard to bring him to Serie A.
The Italian club, however, couldn’t meet Arsenal’s assessment and Xhaka instead stayed to become a key part of Arteta’s rebuild this season.
So often a controversial and divisive figure for supporters, he has become the glue of the team and a constant performer.
“He feels the environment will protect him, he feels loved at the club,” Arteta said.