Granit Xhaka Arsenal 2022-23Getty Images

Granit Xhaka’s glorious Arsenal swansong: Is this the perfect moment to say goodbye?

Granit Xhaka’s remarkable block to deny Joe Willock what looked like a certain equaliser during Arsenal’s 2-0 win at Newcastle on Sunday was a moment that typified the gutsy performance Mikel Arteta’s side produced at St James’ Park. Xhaka had no right to get back in time to throw his body in front of Willcok’s close-range effort, yet somehow he made up the ground and prevented the hosts levelling things up early in the second half.

The block summed up the way Arsenal approached the game, and also perfectly highlighted just how vital a cog Xhaka is in the well oiled machine that Arteta has created this season. When you watch the incident back, Newcastle’s move begins with Xhaka pressing high up in Arsenal’s final third. The home side beat the press and escape down to the left flank, with Alexander Isak eventually racing into the box and teeing up Willock.

Xhaka could easily have just slowly made his way back, watching the move unfold. But instead he charges towards his own penalty area the whole time. Even then, it looks almost impossible for him to reach Willock in time as the ball breaks for the Newcastle star. But somehow he does, timing his slide perfectly to block the shot and prevent the goal. Not once does he break his stride during his 90-yard sprint back into his own penalty area.

It was a match-winning moment. Had Willock scored at that point in the game, the momentum swing would have been huge. But instead, Arsenal were able to maintain their advantage before eventually going on to add a second goal and seal all three points.

Martin Odegaard and Jorginho may have grabbed the majority of the headlines after the game for their exceptional performances, but the role Xhaka played in Arsenal’s win shouldn’t be underestimated.

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