After suffering a disappointing FA Cup fourth round exit to Southampton at the weekend, Arsenal bounced back in style with a Premier League win over the same opponents on Tuesday night.
Mikel Arteta recalled a number of his key first-team stars for the repeat clash against the Saints, and was rewarded with a fine team performance that saw the Gunners run out 3-1 winners.
And whilst teenage talent Bukayo Saka added to his burgeoning reputation with a well-taken goal and then a superb assist for Alexandre Lacazette, Granit Xhaka produced a stand-out display as well.
The Switzerland international has enjoyed a remarkable turnaround since the Crystal Palace game last season, and Arteta himself has previously spoken about just how much of a leader he is.
He said: “Yeah, he’s a natural leader. He’s someone who is always 1,000 per cent committed, not just for himself but to help all his teammates all the time.”
And on Tuesday, that leadership was needed that much more, against a Southampton side bouncing from beating the Gunners at the weekend, and confident of doing it again in the Premier League.
Xhaka looked cool, calm and collected on the ball all night, dictating the tempo with his controlled passing and ensuring the Saints didn’t have too many counter-attacking opportunities with some expert positioning – it led to Goal journalist Charles Watts to declare that he was “running the show”.
Xhaka running the show at the moment.
— Charles Watts (@charles_watts) January 26, 2021
Giving him a match rating of 8 for The Evening Standard, Simon Collings said: “Another good game from the Swiss midfielder, who has been reborn since his red card against Burnley last month. Setup the opening goal with a nice pass.”
He also created the most amount of big chances with two, even more than the likes of Saka and Smith Rowe. And perhaps crucially, his ability to switch play and be accurate with his longer passing (he completed all five of his attempted long balls) meant that Southampton couldn’t press too high or risk getting exposed in behind.
It’s been telling that amid Arsenal’s plethora of options in central midfield, Xhaka has been the one constant, playing in 16 of the Gunners’ 20 Premier League games, and starting and completing the full 90 minutes in the last six.
Being left-footed and with his increasing defensive discipline, he seems to be the one man in that Arsenal midfield who looks to be irreplaceable for Arteta.