If anything summed up Arsenal’s demise it would be Granit Xhaka taking up the captaincy.
The decision is bewildering. It is baffling and, on the face of it, it doesn’t make too much sense.
Xhaka is a tough character, someone who isn’t afraid to get stuck in. The Swiss has a fighter’s instinct.
Yet, he is also a hothead and has a terrible tendency to throw himself into a tackle that isn’t needed. Xhaka makes too many mistakes and it’s rather strange that so much faith has been put in him on a regular basis.
Since arriving in the Premier League, the midfielder has made seven errors leading to a goal. Seven. It’s a remarkable statistic.
So why has he been given the captaincy?
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It’s no lie to say there are a lack of candidates. Rob Holding and Mesut Ozil were charged with the duties against Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup while the recently departed Nacho Monreal also took the armband in 2018/19.
A home grown lad, Holding would undeniably be a good candidate. Perhaps that will come in the future when, quite arguably, Matteo Guendouzi and Hector Bellerin could be in the frame too.
Guendouzi drove Arsenal forward in inspirational fashion against Tottenham and Aston Villa. As for the latter, he’s made his feelings felt on matters away from football on a regular basis, showing a sign of maturity that you want in a captain.
For the most part, Xhaka’s style doesn’t warrant the captaincy but it rather sums up an underlying issue at the Emirates – the lack of leaders.
This hasn’t just been a problem recently, it’s been going on for the past five years or to an extreme extent since Patrick Vieira left.
There are some damning statistics that surround Arsenal’s last three captains. Since Thomas Vermaelen departed for Barcelona, not a single skipper has played over 20 games.
Mikel Arteta spent large periods out, even Vermaelen did. Per Mertesacker, though, played just a solitary game during one season as captain. Laurent Koscielny then spent half of his tenure with the armband out on the sidelines too.
But this is why Xhaka could be a good choice. It’s why there’s a possibility that he could end Arsenal’s struggles.
He already has experience in the role having captained his country and he actually plays. An Arsenal captain that plays? Surely not.
The three men before him barely featured in many matches whilst possessing the captaincy so the 27-year-old mitigates this factor significantly.
It should be a basic requirement for your captain to play consistently but not even that’s been possible on the red side of north London for what feels like an eternity.
When it comes to the midfield general, he appears to play all the time. No matter how many errors he makes or the negative environment he creates around the Emirates, both Arsene Wenger and Unai Emery have refused to drop him.
On that evidence, does he not warrant the captaincy? Some may say he doesn’t, others will say it begins to make more sense.
Whether you like it or not, Xhaka is one of the first names on the team sheet and that hasn’t been the case with a Gunners captain for over five years.
Change has been needed in N5 and simply finding a leader was one of them. He may not be able to solve their problems overnight, but in terms of a long-winded issue that’s been building up with the likes of Arteta, Mertesacker and Koscielny, he can help end the curse.
Vermaelen fell victim to injuries in his second season as captain and since then the Gunners have failed to appoint a leader who regularly features in the starting XI.
It’s been five years in the making but Emery may finally have addressed the issue by trusting Xhaka with the captaincy.
In 2016/17, Xhaka featured 32 times in the Premier League. The campaign after he didn’t miss a single match, becoming a key player in the side.
Last term the former Gladbach man appeared in 29 league fixtures.
Who says there’s no atmosphere at the Emirates? The evidence in the video above suggests otherwise…
That puts some of the other captains at Arsenal over the last handful of years to shame. He is a permanent fixture in the team and, for that reason alone, the captaincy is perhaps a little more deserved.
It is impossible to ignore all of his faults and criticism will likely continue but he does help to put one problematic situation to bed.
So far this season we’ve not seen the best of Xhaka. His crazy tackle that earned Spurs a penalty in the north London derby sums that up. To put it bluntly, it was a moment of madness.
But maybe, just maybe, being named permanent Arsenal captain can help him take on the extra responsibility.