Made Of Granit: Why New Signing Xhaka Is Exactly What Arsenal Need


To ‘rattle someone’s cage’ doesn’t sound very Arsenal, does it? 

Not these days anyway. Overflowing with a gifted troupe of affable players, the modern Gunners focus on their main strength, technical quality, above all else. 

Managed by a boss that prefers raised voices to be a last resort, aggravating the opposition or ruffling feathers within the confines of their own dressing room just isn’t something that comes naturally to the group. 

And that, in my view, has held them back from winning the title. 

When mistakes have been made, when matches have begun to slip away, when the pattern of a contest has plateaued into a one-paced but largely ineffectual onslaught, Arsenal have been crying out for somebody to speak up, ‘rattle cages’, and provoke positive change. 

FBL-EUR-C1-DINAMO-ARSENAL : News Photo

A little too quiet, a little too insular, definitely too nice, we’ve seen the odd gesture here and there from certain players, but not enough firm action or straight-talking communication on the pitch. 

Letting things go, there hasn’t been an individual who’s set aside his own game to shake up a team’s performance. 

New signing Granit Xhaka has been brought in to change that dynamic, and as someone that follows my former club closely, I couldn’t be happier about it. 

To be captain of club and country at the age of 23, you need a certain type of personality, and he’s clearly somebody with an in-built tendency to lead. 

Tony Adams had that gene. When I was a kid growing up in junior football, I remember Matt Holland had it too. 

Tony Adams : News Photo

Certain people, when they cross the white line, simply have a knack of getting others going – and the Gunners have been short of that type of character for years. 

Isn’t a manager there to motivate?

Yes of course, but when a game is in full flow you can’t be looking towards the dug out for direction every five minutes. In the top flight, when it’s noisy, it’s hard enough hearing a mate ten yards away. 

A gaffer’s influence from the technical area is reliant on players understanding the feel of the game too. Players have responsibilities. 

Many prefer to focus on themselves, but if you get too many players like that, there’s a very real danger of ambling along within a comfort zone. 

Teammates who won’t accept ‘OK’ performances from others are worth their weight in gold to any side that’s seeking success. 

Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool : News Photo

When someone alongside you demands a few kilowatts of extra energy, even when it feels like there’s nothing more to give, it can push you and rest of the group along. 

It’s often the difference between a win and a draw, or a draw and a defeat. 

I know that football is changing, and that modern players are less aggressive in their make-up, but there will always be a place for strong, uncomplicated encouragement on a football pitch. It’s no place for airs and graces. 

Xhaka is a talented all-round midfielder in the Arsenal mould. He has a lovely left foot, he passes beautifully, and wins the ball back with the kind of hostility that is sure to make him a favourite at the Emirates. 

Just as importantly though he could be the vocal link that’s been missing. 

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He’s accustomed to wearing the armband, he’s a proven winner with the Swiss junior teams and Basel, and he’s a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-fight type player that wants to arouse those around him. 

That is music to any Arsenal fans’ ears. 

In his first interview with Arsenal.com Xhaka used the term ‘aggressive’ three times, ‘leader’ twice, as he also mentioned ‘fight’. These are not dirty words. They are qualities the Gunners will benefit from. 

Sometimes all it takes is one new player in a dressing room to alter attitudes completely, and if all I’ve heard about the 23-year-old is true, there will be fewer low-key performances next season. 

Finishing first over a 38-game campaign requires consistency of high-level performance. 

In 2015/16, the Gunners allowed themselves to slip below the standards required, too submissively, too often. 

If that happens next season, you can be sure Xhaka will have something to say about it. 

He’s just what the dressing room needs. 

 

Read more from ex-Arsenal man Adrian Clarke