Arguably, it was the worst result of Unai Emery’s short reign as Arsenal manager to date. The Gunners have made progress under their new coach, but until this weekend their results had followed the form book. They’d lost to Manchester City and Chelsea, drawing with Liverpool, whilst beating the likes of Everton, Leicester City and Fulham. This changed on Sunday, though.
The 1-1 draw against Wolves was a poor result. Nuno Espirito Santo’s side have exceeded expectations this season following their promotion from the Championship, but nonetheless, as a team with top four aspirations Arsenal must have expected to have brushed them aside, particularly at the Emirates Stadium.
As things turned out, the Gunners were lucky to even get one point, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan scoring late on to salvage things. Emery’s side were left chasing the game by a mistake from Granit Xhaka, whose decision to dummy a ball allowed Ivan Cavaleiro to score the opener for the away side.
This certainly wasn’t the first time that the Swiss midfielder has been a target for the Arsenal support. Generally speaking, Xhaka has failed to live up to his billing since making the move to North London from Borussia Monchengladbach two and a half years ago, but he delivers something of a free pass this time.
“He has a big commitment with us and also character,” Emery explained after the match, defending Xhaka for his error. “His performance with his quality is good for us. We need everybody. For me and for the team, we need more consistency. I think the most important thing is to build with confidence and creating little by little with very big work. I think we are doing it and Xhaka is doing this also.”
Emery is right to stand up for his player given his performances so far this season. Xhaka finally looks comfortable in his surroundings, clear in his role in the Arsenal team. Alongside Lucas Torreira, the Swiss international has given the Gunners a solid midfield partnership. He is crucial in the way Arsenal have come to play under Emery, driving the ball forward into the final third where the likes of Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang take over.
Xhaka is just one of the players at the Emirates Stadium who looks to have been rejuvenated by Emery this season and one mistake, albeit a costly one, shouldn’t mask the progress that he has made. Arsenal finally have a structure and a system, and Xhaka is thriving in that environment.
Lessons must be learned from Arsenal’s home draw against Wolves, but they must recognise how far they have come in the space of just a few months. Xhaka mustn’t be too hard on himself because he has shown more than enough this season to vindicate his place in the side. Cut out the mistakes and he’ll be fine.
How well do you know European Football? Want to challenge the best English Fantasy Managers? Play www.epl-fantasy.com now.