In recent weeks, Mikel Arteta identified the shape of Granit Xhaka as “phenomenal” and a key reason behind Arsenal’s greater solidity.
Since returning from the suspension sustained by the red card he got against Burnley on 13 December, Xhaka has been impressive. His dismissal came at 0-0 after he lost his composure and grabbed Ashley Westwood by the throat and it saw him pilloried on social media, and not for the first time after Arsenal had sunk to a 1-0 loss.
Xhaka’s Arsenal career had looked over when, after jeering him at his replacement in the 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace in October 2019, he swore at a section of the Emirates support. Instead, in the FA Cup final victory over Chelsea, the Swiss international knuckled down and ended the season with a fine result.
The sending off against Burnley saw the pendulum swing again in the wrong direction, following the turbulent trajectory of the Arsenal career of Xhaka.
With Arteta’s squad mired in a desperate stretch of form that would get worse before it got better, the timing was bad. They will draw once during Xhaka’s suspension and lose twice in all the competitions. In the league alone, it brought their run of results to one win and two draws from 10 matches.
The return of Xhaka to the team and his best level coincided with an upturn that was desperately needed. In the 3-1 win over Chelsea, a game in which he excelled, he scored, and in the subsequent victories at Brighton and West Brom, he was critical. Though Arsenal lacked spark in the 0-0 draw against Palace last Thursday, Xhaka gave an all-action display, especially catching the eye with his tackling. When Newcastle visit on Monday night, he is in the mood to drive the team again.