By Tony Attwood
There was a time – quite a long time in fact – when anyone daring to write or say something positive about Xhaka would be howled down. So great were the howlings at times that vampire slayers would gather around the east end of London at dusk in the hope of a good night’s sport at the offices of our national press.
The conclusion of one and all (well, one and all except half a dozen of us on Untold) was that Xhaka was a typical Wengerian disaster and should not so much as be sold but rather given away. Or paid to leave. A prediction was made: the first thing that the new manager (whoever he was to be) would do would be give Xhaka away to anyone who would take him off our hands.
But now I see a growing number of articles of the written persuasion in which Xhaka is praised. A statistic from last season that Untold trotted out about him having a better passing record than anyone else is back on the agenda, and the sneers about that being irrelevant to the menu (rather like horseradish on lamb or mint sauce on pork) could be heard all the way from the Arsenal Stadium to the crumbling edifice at 784 High Road, N17.
And so what should have been the nail in the new manager’s coffin – offering Xhaka a new contract long before the old one has gone – has instead been hailed as foresight, insight and any other sort of sight that you can spot.
“Stephan Lichtsteiner makes bold Granit Xhaka prediction after new Arsenal contract” shouts the always excitable Metro, continuing, “Granit Xhaka can get even better after agreeing a new contract to stay at Arsenal, according to Switzerland captain and new Gunners full-back Stephan Lichtsteiner. The 25-year-old has agreed a new deal to stay at The Emirates Stadium until 2023 after two years in north London.”
Yes the phrase “even better” is in there. I did not make this up.
And not content with that they quote Lichsteiner as saying, “I’ve known Granit now for more than six or seven years, so he’s just an amazing player. He’s very good and he’s still young. It’s not easy for him to be the direct leader at 23 or 24 years old, so I hope I can help him to become bigger and bigger. He had a very good season and I hope next year he will do even better.”
Oh what a change since the start of last season when the Metro led with the story, “Granit Xhaka could be frozen out at Arsenal after Liverpool drubbing.
Of course Wenger had not lost his patience. What was lost was any sense of proportion by the Metro and an inability to distinguish between the howling of vampires at ArsenalFansTV and even a remotely proper analysis of a player.
Naturally Sky were part of the attack with Charlie Nicholas saying the Xhaka should be sold in March 2017 and the Metro (yes them again) weighing in, and then in February this year, with a whole series of anti-Xhaka articles in the came the Mail.
And moving on to March this year the Metro showed just how vindictive it could get with the headline, “Arsenal news: The THREE stars Arsene Wenger successor should sell.” Xhaka was of course at the top of the list of three.
Of course it is a fundamental of contemporary journalism that the readership has a long term memory capability shorter than the lesser brained short-life gnat. However less I am being unfair here let us bring in another unbiased and balanced source: Sky Sprouts, the well known fair and balanced sporting channel.
Granit Xhaka signs new Arsenal contract as Unai Emery hails ‘important’ player
Their recent coverage reads, “The 25-year-old midfielder’s future was reportedly uncertain following Arsene Wenger’s exit but the Gunners’ new head coach has indicated Xhaka will take a central role.” Note the use of “reportedly”, meaning “in vindictive make-believe places like on Sky Sprout TV”.
The Daily Express carry the story too, and amazingly for a paper that has hounded Xhaka for two seasons there is not a single word against the player in their reporting.
The problem of course is that these drains (or outlets as they prefer to be known) have vested a huge amount of column inches in attacking Xhaka, knowing that the fanbase that can’t do statistics and have no interest in analysis would follow their lead. The “failure of Xhaka” story was combined with the inability of Wenger to spend money wisely and thus became part of the “Wenger must go” narrative so strongly supported by all the media.
This was hugely successful, as the assaults on this site showed when we dared present the WhoScored statistics showing Xhaka’s ranking as a player. I some of these I even found myself being blamed for Arsenal’s demise for having dared to write that Xhaka was a decent player.
Now it turns out Arsenal has a new manager who rates Xhaka as one of the stars of the team leaving the media with a great problem. Do they turn on the new manager before a ball has been kicked or do they wait until the season has started in case by some strange chance and pure luck Arsenal win a couple of games?
It looks like they are changing their tune, which is quite remarkable when we remember headlines like
‘Not good enough, we should sell him!’ – Arsenal fans blast ‘liability … (Talksport)
Five players Arsenal should sell this summer: Xhaka, Mustafi, Bellerin… (ESPN who went on to say of Xhaka “he’s simply not good enough)
Arsenal news: Next Gunners manager urged to sell Granit Xhaka … (Daily Star)
As late as this May we had “Sky Sports pundit urges new Arsenal manager to offload Gunners star…. Le Tissier said on Sky Sports. “I’ve watched him a lot this season and he’s not good enough.” (Also the Star);
Even the bloggettas were getting in on the act although some started to see that the stuff Untold was writing about how good Xhaka really was began to shine through…
“…he started the season very badly but he gradually became better as the season went on and ended the season by setting a Premier League record for most number of passes. [Now who was it that starting running that story?] Xhaka is one of the more misunderstood players at the club and a lot of Arsenal fans have a very mixed opinion of him. But the confidence that Emery has in him should be an indicator of the regard he is held in at the club.” That from Arsenal fever.
“Xhaka suffered (and still often does) from acute underappreciation. Fans just did not understand what the big deal was. And to be fair, when you bring a £30m+ price tag, they expect the world. To us Gooners, that is a lot of money.” That from Pain in the Arsenal.
So maybe we were ahead of the game. Maybe I just struck lucky. Or maybe, just maybe, Xhaka was a decent player all the way through who, like so many before him, was chosen by the media for attack on the grounds that he was a) Arsenal and b) bought by Wenger.
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