By 90Min
September 05, 2019

It's a good time to be an Arsenal fan right now, with household names are wearing the famous red and white once again, while there's an unshakeable feeling that some serious silverware is just around the corner at Emirates Stadium.

Adding club-record signing Nicolas Pépé to an already formidable attack has made Unai Emery's side one of the most dangerous teams in Europe, but still there's something missing at the other end of the pitch that will leave the club scrapping for fourth (at best) this season.

The fingers were pointing at Shkodran Mustafi last year as Arsenal managed to mess up a seemingly comfortable route into the top four with their run of fixtures at the end of the season.

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But this time it's Granit Xhaka's turn to step up as the pantomime villain in north London, a role which Arsenal fans seemingly need to have filled so that they can vent their frustrations on a Saturday afternoon.

It's a position that some now beloved players have taken up in recent years, and to find Arsenal's most memorable scapegoat turned clut hero, it's difficult to look past Olivier Giroud.

During the World Cup winner's six-year spell at the club, insults would be flying from all corners as Arsenal fans desperately looked to blame their 'lamppost' upfront for all of their problems.

It was only when Giroud moved to Chelsea that the Frenchman's importance to Arsenal was made clear for supporters at Emirates Stadium, and the same will happen with their latest scapegoat Xhaka.

He is seeming an everpresent for the club as he's a vital part of Emery's tactics, helping to keep the ball ticking over and turning defence into an attack like no other player at the club can actually do.

Xhaka's passing range is something which is rightly never called into question, but what's often overlooked is that the 26-year-old is being asked to play in an unnatural position the heart of Arsenal's midfield.

You only have to look at a recent piece from The Telegraph to realise just how misunderstood Xhaka has become, with it stated in the opening line that the Swiss midfielder was intended to take the mantle of Gilberto Silva.

First catching the eye when he was being compared with Xabi Alonso as a finessed deep-lying playmaker, dictating possession from deep areas of the pitch is something which is Xhaka's stock-in-trade.

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An important part of that role, however, is who Xhaka is paired with in a two-man midfield, something which has only highlighted his weaknesses on the pitch.

During his first three seasons at the club, it was Aaron Ramsey's responsibility to sit alongside in midfield, but the Welshman's apparent freedom to drift forward which left Xhaka isolated when the ball was inevitably turned over.

Fast forward to Arsenal's 2-2 draw against Tottenham, both Lucas Torreira and Mattéo Guendouzi spent most of their time in the attacking third of the pitch, once again creating acres of space for Spurs to counter.

Players being used out of position is nothing new for Arsenal fans to deal with, but while Ainsley Maitland-Niles is latest in a long line of players to be given a free pass for that very reason, Xhaka has become Arsenal's scapegoat.

The Switzerland international should in no way exempt from criticism, especially when he produces needless tackles like he did during the north London derby, but Xhaka can't be accused of hiding when he makes a mistake.

Where was Bernd Leno's apology for Christian Eriksen's goal in the derby?

There's no doubt that Xhaka is a player who isn't easy on the eye. He isn't fast or skilful and often relies solely on brute force when he doesn't have the ball, but that alone brings an important balance to a side which is filled with elegant technicians.

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His influence on the team is something which is almost exclusively seen when Xhaka is absent, with Arsenal often looking disjointed without their captain, even against opponents where there's an obvious gulf in class.

Xhaka is never going to become a fan favourite in north London, but he's a player who's unquestionable importance to Arsenal under both Unai Emery and Arsène Wenger has been the only constant over the last three years at Emirates Stadium.

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