London – Granit Xhaka has said he will not change his playing style despite the criticism he has received for picking up yellow and red cards during his first season in England.
The Arsenal midfielder, who scored one of the goals in the 2-0 win against Manchester United on Sunday, has been booked 10 times and sent off twice so far this season but is adamant he can continue in the same vein and that he just has to be a bit “cleverer”.
“In football you get criticised if you are sent off,” the 24-year-old said. “It’s my style of play and nobody can make me change that. Even if I get another red card, then that [is what] happens. You become cleverer, and since my [last] red card, I think things have improved.”
Arsène Wenger publicly criticised Xhaka, who joined from Borussia Mönchengladbach for £35m in the summer, after the player was sent off for the second time of the season against Burnley in January and advised him “not to tackle”.
Xhaka has stayed on the pitch since then and the Switzerland international does not think he has been targeted by referees during his first campaign in England. “I don’t know if that’s really the case, I don’t think so,” he said before adding that he is still learning about the Premier League.
“I’m not really a fan of talking about myself too much, maybe others should judge [how my first season has gone]. It’s a season that has had ups and downs, but that’s normal in your first season. I think that belongs to football.
“It’s not like I played my first football match in England. For me football is pretty much the same everywhere, the ball is round, but maybe tactically things are different than at other clubs I’ve played for.
Arsenal recently switched to a back three and Xhaka believes Wenger will keep faith in the system now that results have improved. “It doesn’t make a difference for me if you play with three at the back or four,” the Swiss said. “I played for a year at Mönchengladbach with three at the back. Of course it’s a different role but so long as things are going well, why change?”
He added: “It was an important win against United. We knew we had to win, we played a good game and deserved it too. This is a phase where we have to win every game, which we know. We have four games left that we need to approach in the same way as today. If we do that, I’m convinced that we can achieve what we want now.
Arsenal travel to Southampton on Wednesday before facing Stoke away on Saturday. They finish their league season with two home games, against Sunderland and Everton, in the final week of the campaign and Xhaka believes that victories in those four games will be enough to overhaul the teams above them and to finish in the top four.
“We always have hope – hope dies last,” he said. “It’s up to us, we need some luck along the way, but if we win the next four games, I’m convinced that we can do it. This is a top club, a great club. We’re having a season where things have been a bit more difficult but I’m convinced that in the coming years we can show another side.”
The Guardian Sport