“If that was Granit Xhaka…”
The Arsenal midfielder is one of those players preceded by their reputation. Increasingly unfairly so.
So much so that his name has almost become a meme, peppering your Twitter feed every time any other player gets away without a red card and/or sufficient criticism from the media.
If that were Xhaka, he’d have been given a ten-match ban and three months community service. Or something. You know the drill. Same as when some mediocre journeyman somehow scores a wondergoal and pundits wheel out “If Messi had scored that…”, it kind of falls down when you apply logic.
On the one hand, it’s not difficult to see why Xhaka has the reputation he does.
He’s committed eight errors directly leading to an opposition goal in the Premier League, has been sent off five times for Arsenal and has had the captaincy taken off him – Arsenal fans were once so frustrated with his indisciplined performances that he was booed off the pitch.
He infamously gave some back and looked destined to leave the club a short while later.
On the other hand, the experienced Switzerland international has done remarkably well to sand away those rough edges. He’s been one of Arsenal’s most consistent and reliable performers in their surprise title charge and is undoubtedly one of the Premier League’s standout midfielders in 2022-23.
You only need to look at how he performed in Arsenal’s fraught and feverish 2-0 away win at Newcastle to see that the Xhaka of 2023 is not the player many unfairly still believe he is.
So you can see where Arsenal fans are coming from when they complain about how Xhaka was blamed for Arsenal drawing 2-2 at Anfield.
When you think about it, it is a bit ridiculous that more time and energy was spent on his argy-bargy with Trent Alexander-Arnold rather than the defending for the goal that got Liverpool back into it.
Fortunately, we do still have one Xhaka treating us to heads-gone moments of madness. Introducing Taulant Xhaka, who went full Zizou in Basel’s 2-0 home defeat to FC Zurich on Sunday.
Xhaka losing it. First a second yellow, then he goes full Zinedine Zidane.
I doubt he will play anymore matches in Super League this season.
— Swiss Football Data (@swissfootdata) May 7, 2023
The Basel midfielder is actually the older brother. With that kind of influence growing up, you start to see where Arsenal’s No.34 picked up his more ill-disciplined tendencies.
The incident was worthy of a fixture known as the Swiss Klassiker. The game had floated by without a goal for 90 minutes, only for Zurich to score twice in injury time.
Seemingly incensed by former Rangers defender Nikola Katic just standing there with his arms aloft, the red mist descended and Xhaka launched a headbutt square in the thorax.
If that wasn’t ridiculous enough, what happened next elevated things to farcical new heights.
One of the strangest things I've ever seen in football today.
Taulant Xhaka is eventually retrieved from the tunnel after a VAR review to allow the referee to rescind his second yellow card for violent conduct… and give him a straight red instead.
— Craig King – 𝗙𝗼𝗼𝘁𝗯𝗮𝗹𝗹𝗦𝘄𝗶𝘀𝘀EN (@FootballSwissEN) May 7, 2023
Match official Alessandro Dudic had already dished out nine yellow cards and three red – three for Basel, and all coming in the final 15 minutes – but he only deemed Xhaka’s headbutt of a second yellow.
After much confusion, Xhaka was subsequently called back out of the dressing room and called back onto the pitch to correct a mistake after VAR intervened. The 32-year-old mustn’t have believed his luck when he got told to return to the pitch – could it really be overturned?
No, it couldn’t. Dudic gave the signal to annul his original decision and instead corrected it with a straight red card. Just sensational. Worthy of the name.
With the Arsenal midfielder disconcertingly level-headed these days, we salute Taulant for helping reach our quota of Xhaka-based lunacy this season.
By Nestor Waatch