Mikel Arteta has admitted that Granit Xhaka’s Arsenal future was once again uncertain ahead of this season, telling the midfielder that ‘the team now demands somebody, so unless you unlock that I’m going to have to do something about it”.
The Swiss captain has been a man transformed in the early parts of the Premier League season, playing further forward for the Gunners as he has helped them to the top of the Premier League, where they sit five points clear of second place Manchester City.
And Xhaka has claimed several times that it was only Arteta that kept him at the club, admitting that his ‘suitcases were packed’ in 2020 before talking with the Spaniard.
Now playing in a more advanced role in Arsenal’s midfield, Xhaka has continued to prove a key man in Arteta’s side in his new position, something that Mikel Arteta saw as key to the advancement of the Arsenal side.
“I think it was a necessity”, the Arsenal boss told Sky Sports.
“I think the squad wanted to evolve to another level and be more dominant and have more resources in the final third to attack and to score more goals. We needed to make that change.”
He then revealed that he had told Xhaka to adapt or be dropped before the season began, something that the 31-year-old had responded to in emphatic fashion.
“I spoke to him at the end of the season and said, ‘I need to unlock something in your brain because you’re so comfortable and confident playing in this area that you have forgot what is actually going to win us the game and the team now demands somebody here, so unless you unlock that I’m going to have to do something about it”, Arteta explained.
“He took it straight away. He’s a very intelligent player, he came to pre-season fitter than ever, slimmer than ever, and he knew that if we wanted to take the team to a different level we had to change his role. He knew that was coming.
“We believed he has those qualities, those qualities were there to be exploited and they were hiding.
“The team needed those qualities very much. As I said, he is extremely intelligent, he has the physical capacity to constantly threat and occupy those spaces and recover his position quickly enough to have the balance we need.
“He’s been really consistent, the way he trains, the way he practises, to evolve to the demands we want for the team.
“He’s a special person. He’s very straight, he’s very honest, he’s very loyal and he’s very passionate about what he does.
“So when you have someone like that you want to help him, you want to protect him, you want him to fulfil the talent he has.
“He’s made some mistakes and he’s learnt from it, but he has always faced adveristy and difficulty and he’s never run away from it.
“This is what all managers wants from their players. You know you can count on him, he will fight and break walls for you. This is what we expect from our players.”
Xhaka’s change in position has reaped rewards for both the player and side, but his purple patch will have to continue in order for the Gunners to be able to overcome Gabriel Jesus’ injury and continue challenging for the title.