Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka has become an easy target for referees, Arsene Wenger believes, insisting the player’s tough-tackling reputation now precedes him.
The 24-year-old Switzerland international arrived at the Emirates Stadium last summer as Wenger shelled out almost €35million to prise him away from Borussia Monchengladbach.
Despite such a fee, Xhaka found himself in and out of the Arsenal side at the beginning of the season and had only started four games before October.
The former Basle youngster came with a reputation for collecting red cards and was given his marching orders by referee Jon Moss in the 3-2 win over Swansea later that month.
Xhaka established himself in Wenger’s side over the Christmas period before another sending-off against Burnley on January 22 saw him become the player in Europe’s top five leagues with the most red cards since the start of last season – and he has racked up nine in three years.
Although there have been no further dismissals, Wenger admits he is concerned about Xhaka being a marked man after seeing him cautioned in each of his last five games.
“I believe that he is now in a position where on the first foul he gets a yellow card. For example on Saturday (against Lincoln) - first foul, soft yellow card,” the Arsenal boss said.
“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.
“Overall he is quite in a positive way, he masters himself much better. He was maybe a little bit before looking too much to impress but overall he has to stay on this ground because it is tackling that can get him sent off. When he defends well, staying on his feet he is a fair player.”
Wenger has previously raised questions over Xhaka’s technique and conceded he is still concerned by how the midfielder goes into a challenge.
Asked if he still has a problem, Wenger replied: “Yes, I agree. The way he tackles is not to hurt people, it is more the consequence of the fact that he doesn’t master well the technique of tackling.
“He has improved a lot since he has arrived I think but he still has to work, yes, on his one against one - you can always improve.”
While Xhaka’s start to his Arsenal career has been a quiet one, across London Chelsea have opened up a 10-point gap at the top of the Premier League table courtesy in no small part to their own summer recruit N’Golo Kante.
The France international cost a similar amount to Xhaka after signing from champions Leicester and has been pivotal to Antonio Conte’s plans at Stamford Bridge.
But Wenger does not want comparisons drawn between the pair, insisting they do not have the same roles even if they operate in the same position.
“They are different types of players. I think 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.”
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