Jamie Carragher believes Arsenal are being held back by “liability” Granit Xhaka and insists they must move him on if they are to take the next step in their progression under Mikel Arteta.
The Swiss international was shown the fifth red card of his Arsenal career for a last-man foul on Diogo Jota in the first half of Thursday night’s Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against Liverpool at Anfield.
The 10-man Gunners produced a spirited defensive performance following his sending off, frustrating Liverpool to secure a goalless draw, after which Xhaka apologised on social media.
“I want to apologise to everyone,” he wrote. “I am so proud of my team and the spirit they they showed to keep a clean sheet tonight.”
But Carragher believes Xhaka’s “ridiculous” foul, which came as he chased Jota from an Andrew Robertson long pass, was just the latest example of him letting his younger team-mates down.
“Xhaka does what Xhaka does,” said the Sky Sports pundit at half-time. “He makes an absolutely ridiculous challenge when Jota still has so much to do. The way he has taken him out and with the force he does it. There’s no doubt it’s a red card.”
Speaking after the game, Carragher added: “From the outside looking in, every manager picks him, so I actually think he must be a good character, a good trainer and a good lad.
“He is a good player as well, we have seen that in a Switzerland shirt and at times in an Arsenal shirt. But it does get to the stage where he is a liability in terms of what we saw tonight.
“We can talk about how great Arsenal were, but more often than not, you go down to 10 men at Anfield, you don’t just lose the game, you are probably out of the competition.
“Liverpool, in a situation like that, should be looking to win 2-0, maybe 3-0, and the game’s finished. That comes down to Arsenal having 10 men and it happens too often.
“We spoke about how well Arsenal played against Man City but that was ruined as well and Xhaka was involved again [conceding the penalty for the equaliser].
“It just happens too much now. He’s not a young lad where you think he’ll learn from experience. He’s one of their experienced players and that’s the one thing that is stopping Arsenal from making that next step.
“I’m so impressed with Mikel Arteta and these young players and what they’ve shown this season, but the actual experienced players in the team are the ones letting the young players down.
“It’s normally the other way around and that’s a massive problem for Arsenal going forward.
“It’s never going to change now. We’re talking about a guy who has played maybe 250 games for Arsenal. That is a player they have to move on.”
Paul Merson, meanwhile, felt it was harsh to single out Xhaka for criticism over the red card due to the general disarray in Arsenal’s defence as Liverpool sprang forward on the counter-attack.
“It wasn’t what I’ve seen over the years from Granit Xhaka where I think, ‘What have you done that for?'” said Merson.
“I wouldn’t have a go at him there. One, he’s tracking back. He could have got lazy and said I’m not doing that.
“Also, there are too many players in that whole situation who were in no man’s land.
“It ends up with Xhaka getting another red card, but if it was Kieran Tierney who got sent off, we would have said it was unlucky.”
Analysis: Xhaka red may yet prove costly
Sky Sports’ Nick Wright:
Arsenal just appeared to be finding their feet following a frantic start at Anfield when Xhaka pushed the self-destruct button, clumsily bringing down Jota when he was bearing down on goal.
There was a feeling of grim inevitability about what would come next. In fact, that feeling never seems to be far away when Xhaka is around. Michael Oliver’s red card was greeted with the usual look of incredulity but nobody else was surprised.
As Carragher put it, this is just what Xhaka does.
He remains a key figure for Mikel Arteta – only Bukayo Saka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have played more minutes for Arsenal since the Spaniard’s appointment as manager – but his latest misdemeanour comes just two weeks after his last one.
The penalty he conceded against Manchester City was of course contentious, but it was typical of Xhaka nonetheless and it proved pivotal, as it so often does, with Arsenal’s surrendering their lead to lose a game they should have won.
This time, his team-mates were able to hold on to draw in his absence, giving them a real chance of earning a place in the Carabao Cup final despite playing 66 minutes of this semi-final first leg with only 10 men.
But Xhaka’s latest error may yet prove costly. With Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny already away at AFCON, Ainsley Maitland-Niles loaned to Roma, and Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe absent with illness, his suspension leaves Albert Sambi Lokonga as their only fit midfielder to face Tottenham on Sunday.
Xhaka has made a difficult job harder. And it feels like he has been doing that for a while.