Granit Xhaka offered yet more evidence that he’s among the most improved players in Europe with another excellent individual display in Arsenal’s 1-0 victory over PSV.
The Switzerland international looked like his days were numbered at the Emirates back in October 2019 when he was stripped of the captaincy after telling the fans to “f*ck off” when he was booed after being substituted during a 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace.
That was in the latter days of Unai Emery’s reign. Mikel Arteta took charge and helped turn things around, but Xhaka was still expected to depart the club in the summer of 2021, having reportedly been courted by Jose Mourinho’s Roma.
But a dramatic U-Turn that summer resulted in Xhaka signing a new contract extension with the Gunners after rejecting Roma. The 30-year-old midfielder has consistently been trusted by Arteta, a central and ever-present figure in the club’s resurgence as the squad has been rebuilt around him.
Xhaka is now enjoying what’s arguably his best-ever run of form at Arsenal. He’s formed a solid partnership with Thomas Partey and the addition of Oleksandr Zinchenko on the left appears to have freed him up to play more of a dynamic box-to-box role.
He’s played almost every minute of Arsenal’s table-topping campaign to date, notching two goals and three assists in 10 Premier League appearances so far in 2022-23 so far.
On Thursday he played 90 minutes of the Europa League group stage match at home to PSV, in which he scored the match-winning goal in a 1-0 win. Club captain Martin Odegaard didn’t feature, so Xhaka took the armband in his place.
The three points secures Arsenal’s spot in the knockout stage of the competition and almost guarantees top spot in the group.
“He deserves that,” Mikel Arteta said of Xhaka after the man-of-the-match display.
“He has faced adversity in difficult moments, he has put his arm up when he had something different to do, his work ethic, the way he is as a person, the way he treats everyone around the club, and the love for this football club and profession is unquestionable.
“He fully deserves that and I’m really happy to see him enjoying his career.”
But the most eye-catching moment of the victory came not from his goal, but with a would-be assist. Xhaka looked like prime Mesut Ozil when he executed this absolutely filthy flick into the path of Gabriel Jesus.
Unfortunately the Brazilian striker wasn’t quite able to get the ball under control, but had he managed to get his shot away, Xhaka’s flick would surely be a contender for the sexiest assist of the season.