Granit Xhaka shows he’s got the heart for the fight in Arsenal’s draw with Slavia Prague

Granit Xhaka’s Arsenal career has hardly been stellar since his arrival at the Emirates Stadium in 2016.

In many ways, the Switzerland international probably owes the fact he’s still at the club to the pure lack of options available to Mikel Arteta and his predecessors.

Let’s be honest, getting substituted and throwing the captain’s armband on the floor in disgust in front of your own fans is a pretty hard thing to come back from at most clubs.

Granit Xhaka is a regular feature when it comes to discussing Arsenal's flawsGranit Xhaka is a regular feature when it comes to discussing Arsenal's flaws
Granit Xhaka is a regular feature when it comes to discussing Arsenal’s flaws | Julian Finney/Getty Images

Regardless of the reason why he’s still in north London, he’s been afforded more than his fair share of opportunities to work his way back into the good books of the Arsenal fans, yet so far he’s only managed to make himself an even bigger villain.

His back catalogue of calamitous errors which have led to goals is a sight to behold, with his blunder at Burnley a few weeks ago possibly the worst of the lot.

The 28-year-old was restored to Arteta’s starting XI for their clash with Slavia Prague in the Europa League on Thursday night, for what now looks like the club’s only realistic chance of securing Champions League football for next season.

While it may not have been a brilliant technical display from him – as there was obviously a whole host of fouls committed in the centre of the field – his attitude and drive on the night looked far removed from the player we’ve seen throwing his arms in the air and sulking so often in the past.

In a drab affair, the Swiss midfielder was the only player in an Arsenal shirt who showed any kind of willingness to press the visitors and try to force a mistake.

Often the Arsenal front three of Willian, Alexandre Lacazette and Bukayo Saka would be completely immobile as the Slavia backline comfortably passed the ball between themselves, yet Xhaka was the one sprinting 30 yards to hurry them and trying to force the issue.

With 15 minutes of the game to play, Arteta rolled the dice and went in search of a crucial goal to swing the balance of the tie in Arsenal’s favour.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe and Gabriel Martinelli were all introduced, and they made an instant impact as Pepe handed Arsenal the lead, but without the Xhaka there would have been no opening goal.

The midfielder picked up the ball just outside his own box and had the composure to take a touch and look up rather than hooking the ball aimlessly clear with Slavia players beginning to surround him. His perfectly-weighted ball over the top picked out Aubameyang and he in turn laid it on a plate for Pepe.

Tomas Holes' late goal denied Arsenal the win on Thursday nightTomas Holes' late goal denied Arsenal the win on Thursday night
Tomas Holes’ late goal denied Arsenal the win on Thursday night | Julian Finney/Getty Images

Xhaka isn’t suddenly a midfield genius by any means; there is ability in those moody boots, but so far his attitude seems to have been the biggest flaw in his game.

His performance against Slavia couldn’t have been more different to the Xhaka we’ve come to know over the past five years, and he was rewarded with a starring role in the build-up to the Arsenal opener.

While the night may have ultimately ended in disappointment for Arteta as the Gunners surrendered their lead with almost the last kick of the game, he can be pleased with the performance of his much-maligned midfielder. Xhaka continues to show the fight he did on Thursday night, he could soon work his way back into favour with the Arsenal fans.

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