For too long it was said that Arsenal miss an edge. A nasty side. A player able to participate in the dark arts. That they are too busy playing perfect football, they do not do enough dirty work.
How often do you watch Super Soccer Sunday on Sky Sports and hear the commentator say he has taken a booking for the team there.Often.
And it is usually for the same sort of challenge. A winger running away from the opponent, on the half way line, with defensive team mates out of position. You take the player down, give away a free kick in a non-dangerous area, and take the booking. Despite it being blatant cheating, the commentators commend the fouler for taking one for the team.
I have even watched Match of the Day in the past when a player has not bought down an opponent on the half way line, and the likes of Danny Murphy have said he should have bought him down and taken the booking there. Basically condoning cheating.
It is the side of the game Arsenal have not done for many years. Whether this was by design – Arsene Wenger wanting to play perfect & fair football – or due to our players just being too nice – the likes of Mikel Arteta & Aaron Ramsey. We always just seemed poor at giving away the good fouls.
Then we have the weekend. The Swansea player was clear. Granit Xhaka was a beaten man. The score was 3-2. Xhaka had a choice; bring him down and take the booking, or let his opponent go risking a chance to score an equaliser.
A friend of mine always played football with the following philosophy. The ball or the man can go past you, but never both. And that is what clearly went through Granit Xhaka’s mind. The ball was gone, but the man wasn’t.
It was a blantant yellow card. Re was unlucky to see red. I don’t care what people say about ‘rule changes’, that challenge would have happened up and down the country this weekend, committed 100+ times in all standards of football, and only one man would have seen red for it. Granit Xhaka.
The media have responded with their usually hypocritical self. 10 years of saying Arsenal are too soft, that we don’t do the dark arts of the game well, we finally have a player who does something cynical, and they are up in arms about it.
I have heard radio presenters say “Granit Xhaka nearly cost Arsenal the game” (in fact he stopped a chance). Others have written that he is a liability. That he does not have the calm head for Premier League football.
The reality is that sort of challenge in that area of the pitch is exactly the calm head and awareness needed for Premier League football.
So Xhaka has had 8 red cards in two years. On the face of it, it looks like there is a problem. But statistics can be manipulated to suit an article. Let’s manipulate them another way.
Yesterday was his 1st red card in club football since he was sent off for BorussiaMonchengladbach on 20th December 2015. So he had not been sent off for his club for nearly a year. For a defensive midfielder that screams out “disciplined” to me.
Those 8 red cards that The Mail scream about are in fact the only 8 red cards he has received in his career for club and country. A career that started in 2011. So 8 red cards in 6 years.
At the minute he averages a red card every 25 games. That is perhaps a little high, but no higher than the likes of Roy Keane or Patrick Vieira – I remember once Vieira getting sent off twice in the 1st two games of the season!
So Granit Xhaka is not the clumsy liability who has a discipline problem that the press make him out to be, but the midfield enforcer willing to do the dirty work that the press have long said Arsenal miss.
Xhaka just got unlucky on Saturday. And the press have jumped on it because they have an anti-Arsenal agenda.