Mikel Arteta praises ‘phenomenal’ Granit Xhaka for rallying after red card

Mikel Arteta has described Granit Xhaka’s form as “phenomenal” and a key reason behind Arsenal’s greater solidity in recent weeks.

Xhaka has been impressive since returning from suspension incurred from the red card he received against Burnley on 13 December. His dismissal came at 0-0 when he lost his cool and grabbed Ashley Westwood by the throat and, after Arsenal had slipped to a 1-0 defeat, it saw him pilloried on social media – and not for the first time.

Xhaka’s Arsenal career had looked over when he swore at a section of the Emirates support after they jeered him upon his substitution in the 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace in October 2019. Instead, the Swiss international knuckled down and finished the season with a fine performance in the FA Cup final victory over Chelsea.

The sending off against Burnley saw the pendulum swing in the wrong direction again, continuing the volatile course of Xhaka’s Arsenal career. The timing was terrible, with Arteta’s team mired in a desperate run of form which would get worse before it got better. During Xhaka’s suspension, they would draw once and lose twice in all competitions. It took their run of results in the league alone to one win and two draws from 10 matches.

Granit Xhaka is shown the red card by the referee Graham Scott during Arsenal’s 1-0 loss to Burnley. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/NMC Pool/The Guardian

Xhaka’s return to the team and his best level has coincided with a badly needed upturn. He scored in the 3-1 win over Chelsea, a game in which he excelled, and he was important in the subsequent victories at Brighton and West Brom. Although Arsenal lacked spark in last Thursday’s 0-0 draw against Palace, Xhaka gave an all-action display, catching the eye with his tackling, in particular. He is in the mood to drive the team again when Newcastle visit on Monday night.

Arteta said: “After the red card and with the history that he had, he was in a difficult place and we had to try and bring him back where we believe he can be and where he should be – which is being one of the leaders of the team and giving us stability and the presence he can provide to the team and to the club.

“I think since he’s been back he’s been phenomenal; he’s playing really, really well. Against Palace, he had some really important moments and he’s still young. He’s still a player who can evolve. It’s great for us to have him back.”

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In the Palace game, Xhaka made six tackles, including a vital one to thwart Wilfried Zaha inside the area, and three clearances, one of which prevented a golden chance for Christian Benteke. He also got on the ball more than anybody and played it the most in the final third.

What will be interesting against Newcastle is whether he can gel in central midfield with Thomas Partey, assuming that Arteta starts the £45m signing from Atlético Madrid. Partey returned as a substitute against Palace after nearly six weeks out with a recurrence of a thigh problem. He and Xhaka have barely played together so far.