Granit Xhaka: an Apology (plus Chelsea Report & Ratings)

Xhaka – I’ve always loved him

It has been brought to my attention that certain words in my preview of yesterday’s home game against Chelsea could be construed to have been critical of Granit Xhaka.

That was certainly not my intention. When I wrote: “One thing that will sink my spirits instantly will be if the team sheet includes the names ‘Willian’ and ‘Xhaka,'” what I really meant was: “Granit Xhaka is a crucial member of our squad and is vital to our chances of success today.”

Likewise when I referred to his contributions this season as being “truly awful” I meant by his own high standards and that he is a vital cog in our armoury.

I would like to apologise for any misunderstanding arising from my poor choice of words. And now to the game itself:

Woo-hoo! That was something, wasn’t it? Who expected that result? (Well, apart from Total Arsenal, who predicted a 4-1 win to the boys in red and white, which was close enough).

A 3-1 victory over Chelsea was exactly the late Christmas present we all needed. We’re not out of the woods by any means, but we can now glimpse a bit of daylight through the tree trunks in the distance.

There were encouraging signs even before kick-off when we saw what looked to be a genuinely exciting line-up. A front three of Martinelli, Lacazette and Smith-Rowe exuded potential, particularly with Saka and Tierney also in the starting eleven. Mari was brought in at centre back alongside Holding.

It would be nice to think Mikel Arteta chose this selection of players for pure footballing reasons, but it seems likely that his hand was forced, at least partly. Aubameyang, although on the bench, was returning from injury, while Gabriel was ruled out for Covid reasons.

Right from the off the presence of Martinelli and ESR made a big difference to the intensity of our play. Those two young men showed more commitment and determination in the first half than many of our senior players have shown all season.

In that half we terrorised the Chavs down our left flank, with Tierney linking up really well with Martinelli and ESR. Elneny was playing the role of holding midfielder, allowing the aforementioned Xhaka to move into a more central mid position. And lo and behold, in this role our lump of Swiss marmite discovered a whole new concept: the forward pass.

It was one of Xhaka’s forward passes that led to our opening goal. Picking up the ball in the middle of the Chelsea half he looked up and saw Tierney advancing down the left wing. His pass was perfectly placed and beautifully weighted for our young Scot to race on to, skin the Chelsea defender Reece James and get into the box. James made an ill-advised lunge for the ball and brought down Tierney. The TV pundits tried to say that Tierney had “bought” the penalty by looking for contact and going down too easily, but close watching of the replay shows that James clips the back of his left foot, causing him to fall. One hundred per cent a penalty. Lacazette stepped up, sent Mendy the wrong way and passed it into the net. One nil to the Arsenal.

Ten minutes later Xhaka went from provider to scorer, banging home a superb free kick from outside the Chelsea penalty area.

We supporters were pinching ourselves. Could we really have scored not one but two goals? Against a strongly fancied side sitting fifth in the league?

We carried on with the pressure in the second half and got our just reward in the 56th minute when an attack down our right (for a change) saw Bellerin lay the ball off to Smith-Rowe who cut it inside for Saka. What followed next was either a brilliant piece of improvisation by the young Londoner or a very fortunate sliced cross that ended up in the net. For me there’s no doubt he meant it.

We had chances to put the match completely beyond Chelsea’s reach (an Elneny shot crashed off the underside of the crossbar, Martinelli was unlucky with an overhead kick and Lacazette forced a good save from Mendy in a one-on-one which really should have been buried).

But we didn’t, substitutions were made, we lost our rhythm and Chelsea finished strongly. Abraham chested a goal in in the 85th minute and a few minutes later Chelsea earned a penalty of their own when Mari (who had been having a decent game) brought down Mason Mount.

I can’t have been alone in fearing that, if it went to 3-2 with five minutes of added time still to come, we would have struggled psychologically to hang on. And God only knows what throwing away a three goal lead would have done to our confidence for the rest of the season. But cometh the hour, cometh the big German. Bernd Leno dived to his left to save brilliantly from Jorginho and calm our nerves.

Chelsea’s heads went down and we saw out the final minutes without incident.

All in all an excellent display from the starters given how low we have been on form and confidence, with encouraging performances from many players. If Smith-Rowe and Martinelli have not booked their places in the starting eleven for Brighton on Tuesday night then there’s no justice. Indeed we looked quite a bit shakier when Pepe and Willock came on for Martinelli and Smith-Rowe.

Player Ratings

Leno – 8

Had very little to do but boy did we need that penalty save. If we had let slip a three goal lead it would be hard to see us recovering psychologically.

Bellerin – 7

Captain on the night. Led by example, was very solid and drove forward well at times.

Holding – 7.5

Big Rob has become very reliable and is now very much a first choice defender alongside Gabriel.

Mari – 6.5

Giving up the penalty will hopefully be a learning experience, but overall a good outing from the tall Brazilian Spaniard.

Tierney – 8.5 (MoTM)

Brilliant outing from Tesco, both defending and attacking, where he will have given Reece James nightmares and won the penalty for our first goal.

Elneny – 6

Mo did OK but had a few dicey moments, losing possession in dangerous areas.

Xhaka – 8

Made one, scored one, passed forwards and even won a trademark free kick with his classic baby fall. A really good answer to his critics. He appeared to enjoy playing in a slightly more advanced position.

Saka – 8

A great talent. Always intelligent with his running and passing and scored a stunner.

Martinelli – 8

You could tell he was frustrated not to get on the scoresheet but whenever he got the ball you could see the looks of fear in the eyes of the Chelsea defenders.

Smith-Rowe – 8

His touch and control are already better than most of the rest of the squad and we really benefitted as a team from having someone playing a proper Number 10 role. He felt like the oil in our machine last night.

Lacazette – 8

Outstanding effort from Lacazette, who ran all game long closing down the Chelsea defenders, linked up well with his team mates and took the penalty with aplomb. He really thrived with having Smith-Rowe behind him instead of being asked to be the main hold-up player. Scored the pen and should have had another when he went one-on-one with Mendy.



29 Responses to Granit Xhaka: an Apology (plus Chelsea Report & Ratings)

  1. Stan Adams says:

    Xhaka and Elniney both played well against Chelsea but lets not get carried away both are not good enough particually Xhaka.
    But what the Afc/Chelsea game showed was just how important it is to have midfielders who can score it opens up a whole new dimension to the team.
    Partey,Aouar,perhaps Danni and one more.
    Players run past and away from Xhaka,Elneny has improved but he has no wow factor and joe willock has potential but thats it.
    Changes are vital.

  2. Zen says:

    Not correct ratings imo m8, Xhaka, Laca, they were below Emile, Saka, Martinelli.

    To kind @ Mari, Holding and bellerin atleast 0.5-1p to much. Solid 6.5 tops, for Mari 5,5. Overall great performance by the kids!

  3. Brad says:

    Aubameyang back for Brighton.
    Rest or bench for Martinelli in this game.
    Lets not mess him up.

  4. Malaysian gunner says:

    Please dont get carried away. It was about time the gunners won. The only disappointment was Mu drew. Its about time they get beaten.
    As for Arsenal,the next few matches will be crucial. WBA and Brighton will be no pushovers.What I like was the movement and the speed of the attack which sent the defenders back pedalling. This gives defences less chance of anticipation and regrouping in time.

  5. TotalArsenal says:

    A brilliant review and excellent ratings, Rocky. And thanks for the mention 🤩

    There are one or two scores we could argue about but we all see different things during the game.

    Obese Fwank will blame the attitude of his players but they simply didn’t know what hit them yesterday. The positioning of the team was great and the energy and speed of the game was simply too much for the Chavskis. Yythe midfield was ours. Please more of this on Tuesday.

  6. Sue says:

    WHAT. A. NIGHT!!
    So nice to finally have a handful of players to choose from for MOTM.. ESR, Saka, Martinelli, Tierney, Holding!!
    ESR took his chance, and i really hope we see more of him.. 😍
    3 fantastic goals, especially Saka’s – he meant it alright 😉
    Fancy sending fat Frankie back to West London with nowt… Ooh to be!!!

  7. RockyLives says:

    Morning all.

    Thanks for the comments.

    I might have been a little over enthusiastic with my ratings in the immediate afterglow of the game but, hey, it’s been a while since we had something to be happy about.

  8. Rasp says:

    Absolutely Rocky …. similarly some may have misinterpreted my view of Xhaka as critical 😂

    He did have a very good game although once again it could have been a completely different story if his rash tackle on the edge of our box early on had resulted in a Chelsea goal. I agree that he is more effective when he has the space and time to distribute the ball from midfield, but he (like Luis) is prone to make mistimed or rash challenges when defending under pressure.

    But this is no time to dwell on negatives. It was a great performance fuelled by the energy and ambition of youth. The 6 changes produced a team performance that was on a different level. ESR, Tierney, Martineli,Saka and Holding were the stars but every player stuck to his job and worked to the script.

  9. Gööner In Exile says:

    LB in response to your comments on Willian, Pepe and PEA last night I agree and think we have both said same thing for a while.

    That need to take three four touches before moving the ball has been going through the squad, Ceba is also guilty of that at times as are Elneny and Xhaka.

    Why is it young players seem to do things at a far quicker pace than their senior pros.

    Even Holding at the back is the quickest to push the ball and avoid the press.

    I tell my boys all the time, the quickest thing on a football pitch is the ball, and it never gets tired, so move the ball.

  10. Rasp says:

    Morning GiE, I hear what your saying about the game management in the last 10 minutes. Just imagine how the young players would have their confidence shattered if the penalty had gone in and we’d capitulated to a last minute equaliser. Maybe the experienced players (from Bellerin upwards) should have calmed things down and helped the younger players … but as we’ve seen so often lately, it has been the more experienced players who act rashly. I guess it comes back to changing the culture as Arteta first claimed when he took the job.

  11. LB says:

    I haven’t savoured reading a post in ages and that one was pure joy.

    Brighton will be a different kettle of fish of course, they will defend deep and this is where we have struggled, the lack of close creative control and skill has meant that we have been unable to break these kind of teams down — Martinelli and ESR give us that and that is the reason why it is critical that they play.

    Pedantic point: Mari is Spanish not Brazilian; he played in Brazil, hence the confusion.

  12. RockyLives says:

    Thanks for the correction LB.

    When I wrote that late last night I had a slight niggling feeling that it was wrong, but it was late, I’d been at the beers and we’d won 😀

    I’ll amend it.

  13. LB says:

    Why did Hector seem to play so much better?

    Because of who had in front on him: Saka’s coverage of Bellerin was outstanding, many times Hector got caught up field when play broke down and usually this would have cost us but the amount of times that Saka charged back made the tackle and saved the day was, I want to say impressive but it went further, it was uplifting to the point of being good for the soul.

  14. RockyLives says:

    We were good down both flanks.

    Belli-Saka on the right.

    KT-Martinelli on the left.

    Willian and Pepe just don’t give us what Martinelli and Saka do.

  15. LB says:

    It is so good to have something to be optimistic about again, just great.

  16. LB says:

    Willian and Pepe really don’t, they look like yesterday’s men already.

  17. Johnmike says:

    Men of honour accept mistakes and apologise instead of finding ways to justify and deny their mistakes. Your vituperations and insults on Xhaka,however you tried to deny such denigration on him if included in the team pre chelshit game that he proved you wrong i won’t accept it,only apology will do. #COYGS.

  18. RockyLives says:

    Thanks for the comment.

    You should Google “irony” then re-read the first few paragraphs of the Post.

  19. RA says:


    I fully understand your explanation of what you really meant about Granit. It is a form of code so that no one, outside the chosen few, notices what a Messi type star he is.

    I may have been following the same code methodology when describing Belli as a fast thinking, energetic tackler who does not pass backwards 90% of the time or loses the other 10%, or who brilliantly covers the tallest opposition player in the box from corners.

    It seems I have misplaced the code, so Belli is clearly all those things, and more.

    Oh, irony, where is thy sting? 😁

  20. RockyLives says:

    Haha – nice one Redders 😀

  21. RockyLives says:

    I have seen it said elsewhere that we played a 4-2-3-1 formation yesterday.

    I saw it more as a 4-1-1-3-1 if that doesn’t seem too complicated.

    Elneny sat deep as the first “1”, with Xhaka clearly playing ahead of him as the second “1”.

    Then Saka-Smith Rowe-Martinelli as the three behind Lacazette.

    Smith Rowe’s role was interesting. I referred to him in my match report as playing a No 10 role, but he did not do that from a purely central position in the way, say, Dennis Bergkamp used to.

    Instead he played mostly right-of-central in a manner reminiscent of a certain German who is currently out of favour.

    Whatever you call it, Smith Rowe worked much better with Lacazette than Willian has managed to do when used in a similar position by Arteta on occasion. It’s not a coincidence that the presence of Smith Rowe allowed Laca to have his best game in quite a while.

  22. fred1266 says:

    Sorry to hear willock wasn’t good when he came on

  23. LB says:

    “It’s not a coincidence that the presence of Smith Rowe allowed Laca to have his best game in quite a while.”

    This is very true.

  24. Gööner In Exile says:

    It is also not to go unnoticed that when Pepe replaced Martinelli, Tierney suddenly had more to do defensively and so his attacking threat was nullified.

    The same could be said of Willock/ESR switch but that’s harder to judge as I feel that is not Willocks natural position and all it really did was take away one short passing option ESR whilst Xhaka still had Saka and Martinelli. Maybe Willocks true role is the one Xhaka played yesterday only time will tell.

    But as so often I have implored the club and supporters please don’t write off our youngsters, and replace them with overpaid imports who are really no better. Let’s assume in a squad of 25 we need 15 PL 1st team starter quality, then we need 10 squad players, lads that are not guaranteed to start but need to do a job when called upon. Will you get a better performance from a player who has developed at the club or an import from UK or abroad who is there for the pay check only?

    Our 10 non regular starters should all be academy created players, hopefully a few of the 15 are too as again their will be an understanding between them.

    Rocky late in the day on saying thanks for match report, I agree on Holding, he is unfussy and knows his job, is rarely upset by opponents and most importantly stays on his feet.

  25. RockyLives says:

    Thanks GiE
    Agree 100% about using youngsters over very average foreign imports .

  26. RockyLives says:

    Another disappointing game for the Spuds. Things just keep getting better.

    They’re ahead for 85 minutes and still only end up with a draw. 😀

  27. davespagnol says:

    Smith Rowe, Martinelli and Mari need more game time, to improve their fitness to last the full 95 minutes. Mari’s foul for the penalty was that of a tired man, and the removal of ESR and Martinelli from the fray led to a dodgy last few minutes, with pressure invited. But that will come with regular selection. I hope!

  28. RockyLives says:

    New Post

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