Granit Xhaka is one of those players who massively divides opinion among Arsenal fans. However, the Swiss international reserves a special place in Unai Emery's plans and a glance into Arsenal's performances shows why.
The manager's faith on the player needs to be reprised on Thursday night as the Gunners aim to turn around a 3-1 first leg defeat against French side Rennes in their UEFA Europa League Round of 16 tie.
Xhaka is coming off one of his better performances of the season so far where he scored the opener in a 2-0 win against rivals Manchester United over the weekend. While he might not be expected to score goals consistently, Xhaka will be key to unlock as well as shut down opposition in the middle of the park.
The 26-year-old has made himself indispensable ever since Emery took over at the start of the season. Even after being almost rested for the entire Europa League group stage, he has played in 31 games out of a possible 44. The only group game in the competition he played was an away 1-0 win over Sporting CP where he featured for the very first time at left-back!
That was not the only time Emery placed the midfielder in defence. In three further games Xhaka played at the back, Arsenal drew once and lost two, including a League Cup ouster in the North London Derby against Tottenham Hotspur. But it laid emphasis on how Arsenal missed Xhaka more in midfield rather than rue his performance in defence.
A proper manager's player, Xhaka does exactly what his Boss instructs on the pitch and his no-nonsense attitude has earned him comparisons with former Gunner and World Cup winner Emmanuel Petit.
However, there is a chink in the armour. Susceptive to bookings, Xhaka has picked up no less than 11 yellow cards already; the latest one coming in the first leg against Rennes. This bad habit has already seen him to miss a big match, where his side drew against Manchester United in December.
Although statistics read four goals and three assists, it also reads out 45 fouls, 54 per cent success-rate on tackles and 43% aerial battles lost. It does not reflect too kindly for Xhaka but Emery's system thrives on such player who is not shy of flinging a tackle or two.
In the past, it was Steven N'Zonzi who portrayed a similar role under Emery at a Sevilla team that won the Europa League. When Emery left for Paris Saint-Germain, he could not zero in on a midfield general as neither an ageing Thiago Motta nor Grzegorz Krychowiak, who he took with him from Sevilla, could impress.
While N'Zonzi was the first name linked to Arsenal after Emery's appointment, Xhaka has shown why there is no need for a replacement as he continues to deliver.