Wenger urges Xhaka to keep his feet on ground
Arsenal are naturally expected to face the physical challenge of a Tony Pulis team as they travel to West Brom today, but there is an unexpected player that Arsene Wenger does not seem to want going in hard in that game. It is one perceived as one of his most physical: Granit Xhaka.
The Swiss midfielder has picked up bookings in each of his last five games since getting sent off against Burnley in January, adding to a certain aggressive public image following on from the amount of cards he received in Germany with Borussia Monchengladbach.
Wenger believes part of that level of punishment is because Xhaka is a 'victim of his own reputation', but that another problem is that - remarkably - "he doesn't master well the technique of tackling".
The Arsenal boss feels many of the 24-year-old's cards come from an awkwardness in the challenge, rather than any malice. Xhaka has become somewhat notorious for the way he goes on to win the ball by almost scissoring his legs, something that doesn't help when referees are now so attuned to watch for his tackles.
"I believe that he is now in a position where on the first foul he gets a yellow card," Wenger said. "For example on Saturday [against Lincoln in the 5-0 FA Cup win], first foul, soft yellow card.
"So he is a victim a little bit of his reputation. You see tackles of some players who are much worse than what he did who don't even get a yellow card and he got a straight red and because he had a history of that in Germany I think he is a bit of a victim of that. He was a little bit before looking too much to impress but he has to stay on the ground. When he defends well, staying on his feet, he is a fair player."
Xhaka's struggles in that area have only brought more attention to the debate about how he cost just £2m less than Chelsea's £32m N'Golo Kante, despite the huge contrast in their impact.
"They are different type of players," Wenger said. "Xhaka is more in the distribution of the pass through the lines and Kante is more the ball winner with the real technique to steal the ball without making the foul. You compare more Kante with [Francis] Coquelin than with Xhaka. Xhaka is more a distribution player." (© Independent News Service)