It might have looked late but it was, in fact, perfectly timed. Arsenal’s £35m summer signing Granit Xhaka fully intended to upend Swansea’s Modou Barrow on Saturday – a “tackle” that earned him a straight red card.
It would have been more worrying from an Arsenal perspective if he had actually been going for the ball but the fact that it is Xhaka’s eighth dismissal since April 2014 should be a worry in itself. Not to Arsene Wenger though.
“It is one red card,” the Arsenal manager said on Tuesday ahead of his side’s Champions League match with Ludogrets at The Emirates on Wednesday. “We are not responsible for the red cards he got somewhere else. Yes, he made a foul that could have got him a yellow card, that could have got him a red card and it was not meant to hurt anybody. It was just a late tackle to stop the counter-attack that has been punished. He is intelligent enough to analyse that as well.”
Xhaka could be included against Ludogrets as Arsenal seek to win their sixth game in a row given that he is banned for Saturday’s league match at home to Middlesbrough. However, the holding midfield role could also go to Francis Coquelin, another player who is not scared of a tackle. The Frenchman is returning from an injury sustained when he clashed with N’Golo Kanté of Chelsea last month.
It was originally feared he could be missing for three months but he made his return against Swansea from the substitutes’ bench at the weekend. “I feel 100 per cent fit,” he said on Tuesday. “It took me a few weeks to get back to full fitness, but now I feel good. When you make these kinds of tackles, and this happened before against West Brom, you are a bit scared. It was a similar tackle to then.
“The good thing was that I could run back on to the pitch afterwards, even if I couldn't stay on for long. The scan which followed was all positive so that was great news.”
Coquelin has been a regular in the Arsenal side for the past 18 months but he is under pressure after the January arrival of Mohamed Elneny and the summer signing of Xhaka. It does not faze the 25-year-old though. “We are Arsenal Football Club,” he said. “There's always going to be great quality in this squad. You have to be ready for a fight. It's good for me to improve my game and give even more in training and every game. It can only improve the whole squad.”
With Ludogrets and Basel away and Paris Saint-Germain at home to come in the second half of the Champions League group fixtures, Coquelin knows how important a win on Wednesday is. It would take Arsenal to seven points and with one foot in the knockout stages. “We’re all conscious of that,” he said. “It’s a massive game, especially as it is at home. We know we’re going to have two more tough games away too…So it’s massively important to get the three points on Wednesday.”
They will have to get them without striker Olivier Giroud and midfielder Aaron Ramsey who are both still recovering from injuries but are closing in on full fitness.
Wenger may also rest in-form Theo Walcott, despite his recent goal-scoring efforts for his club. The manager also revealed he had not contemplated selling the winger, who has scored five goals this season, in the summer despite clubs showing an interest.
“Look, I haven't spoken to anybody [about selling him] because I was not ready to let him go. I always wanted to keep him. What I've seen of him is that he lets the passion for the game come out of his body. That's what you want from him.
”I've felt that since he's played with more freedom, maybe he lets his feelings come out a bit more and is less calculating: 'Can I do that or can I not do that?' “He plays with more freedom and more desire. I think he has a less restricted attitude and that shows you that he is a completely different player.”Reuse content