Arsenal developed an ugly habit last season. One defeat would quickly spiral into two and sometimes even three losses in a row. Ultimately this tendency to collapse was what saw them miss out on Champions League football by just one point as consecutive defeats to Crystal Palace, Brighton and Southampton proved to be their undoing.
So when they faced their first defeat of this season against Manchester United earlier this month there were some fears about how they would react given the trauma of years gone by. However, the Gunners bounced back superbly with a 3-0 victory away to Brentford in a fixture where they were humbled last season on the Premier League’s opening day.
Key to the win was Granit Xhaka who put in a display worthy of the captain’s armband he was given in the absence of Martin Odegaard that culminated in an assist for Gabriel Jesus. For the Swiss midfielder Arsenal’s ability to put bad experiences in the past behind them is symbolic of a key change he has noticed in his team.
“After we missed games against Everton and PSV, we had a week where we could prepare better for Brentford,” he said after the game. “A couple of years ago it was an issue as we would lose, for example, against Manchester United and then lose again, and again and again and then you come back. But this year, I have a feeling it is different and here, you saw the result.”
“It is a process of learning and mentality,” he went on to add. “You saw it today., A different team, a different mentality. A lot of stuff is very different. You also saw from one years ago until today, a very different team.”
The impressive win means that Arsenal now sit top of the Premier League table going in to the opening international break of the season leading some to question how long they might be able to stay there. In his post-match press conference manager Mikel Arteta refused to explicitly reject the suggestion that his side were in a title race, but Xhaka is not getting too carried away just yet.
“If I am being honest, of course we have to enjoy where we are at the moment but I am not looking at the table because there is still a long way to go,” he said. “But to be where we are now gives us a lot of confidence. The teams are respecting us much better and they are seeing us in a different way so it is good to be here where we are but nothing to be too proud about as there is still a long way to go.”
For Xhaka personally Sunday marked something of a milestone as he captained Arsenal for the first time from the start of a Premier League game since his infamous incident that saw him tell fans to ‘f*** off’ after he was substituted in a home game against Crystal Palace nearly three years ago. As the game came to an end the redemption arc he has undergone with fans since that point was painted clearly when supporters chanted his name after he went over to applaud them.
A visibly emotional Xhaka took time to stand and take it all in. Such a thing would have been unthinkable not so long ago and the 29-year-old is enjoying the new bond he has built with the fanbase and revealed that he feels this is only just the beginning.
“I never ever thought one day this would happen, if I am being honest,” he said. “To be in front of them, to have them singing my name is very, very special and emotional. I always wanted that. I always wanted to give them something back after what happened. We were working a lot to try and change their minds of what they had for me and I am happy for what has happened. There is more to come from myself.”