Unai Emery 'Very Proud' of Arsenal's Granit Xhaka After North London Derby

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistSeptember 1, 2019

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 01: Unai Emery, Manager of Arsenal gives his team instructions during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Stadium on September 01, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Granit Xhaka gave away a penalty, made a host of fouls and was booked in stoppage time, yet Unai Emery was still "very proud" of the midfielder's performance during Arsenal's 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur in the first north London derby of the 2019/20 Premier League season Sunday.

The Gunners found themselves 2-0 down after 40 minutes, thanks largely to Xhaka rashly taking down Heung-Min Son in the box. Harry Kane kept his cool from 12 yards to add to Christian Eriksen's opener and give the hosts a mountain to climb at the Emirates Stadium.

Goals from Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang eventually salvaged a point, but Xhaka remained the villain of the piece from an Arsenal perspective, although not in the view of his head coach:

Emery is unlikely to find many who share his opinion about Xhaka's latest mistake-ridden outing against a top-six opponent. Rash decisions and reckless challenges have become commonplace from the Switzerland international since he arrived at Arsenal from FC Basel in 2016.

While Emery may be willing to brush off Xhaka's latest calamity, other onlookers in the red half of north London weren't so charitable. Sky Sports commentator Gary Neville (h/t ESPN FC) was among those who needed harsh words to express his disbelief after Xhaka had lost his cool in the area:

There are two curious ironies about Xhaka's ongoing knack for making the wrong decisions. First, he's a player who oddly usually keeps a calm head in possession.

For all his overzealous aggression, Xhaka can conduct play as well as any midfielder at the highest level. His wand of a left foot, natural technique and eye for a pass produce the kind of cultured distribution Arsenal's attacking style demands.

Even against Tottenham, Xhaka still played some exquisite passes, particularly during the Gunners' fightback in the second half. His composure on the ball remains in sharp contrast to his volatility off it.

Xhaka's artistry in possession is surely why Emery, like his predecessor Arsene Wenger, so often trusts the playmaker as a member of Arsenal's starting XI. Emery has even tabbed the 26-year-old as a potential captain.

Yet Emery is in a strong position where he doesn't have to tolerate more of Xhaka's mistakes. The Gunners are far from short of options and talent in the engine room.

Lucas Torreira is a tenacious ball-winner who can also be a factor in the final third. Meanwhile, 20-year-old Matteo Guendouzi is growing in importance after bossing Spurs in the second half.

Real Madrid loanee Dani Ceballos and emerging prospect Joe Willock are also capable of influencing games in England's top flight. Emery continues to persist with Xhaka, despite the mistakes, at a time when he has ample reasons to look elsewhere.

The onus is now on Xhaka to prove he merits such strong faith from his boss.

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