Rodri said Manchester City did their talking on the pitch as they bounced back from a troubling week by beating Aston Villa.

City won 3-1 on Sunday at the Etihad Stadium – where the Premier League anthem was booed by home fans prior to kick-off – to move within three points of leaders Arsenal ahead of Wednesday's crunch clash in north London.

Rodri opened the scoring in the fourth minute, with Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez putting City into a deserved 3-0 lead by the break.

Ollie Watkins pulled one back for Villa on his 100th appearance for the club, and although Jhon Duran hit the crossbar late on, City were comfortable enough as they made something of a statement after the Premier League accused them over 100 alleged breaches of financial regulations between 2009 and 2018.

"We just talk about football, we talk on the pitch," Rodri told BBC Sport when asked about the off-field furore surrounding City.

"What happens off the pitch is not our business."

City can move top of the Premier League with a win over Arsenal on Wednesday after the Gunners took just one point from their past two games against Everton and Brentford.

"We have the chance to go top," Rodri added. "Go there and show our personality, the team that we are.

"They are playing at an incredible level and we have an incredible level too. It is going to be an incredible fight and an incredible battle and we have the chance to be on top of the table, so that's what we have to think."

Rodri had a difficult game in the 1-0 defeat at Tottenham last week, but the midfielder was back at his best on Sunday.

The Spain international had three shots, got two on target, and created four chances for team-mates, while topping the game for touches (112) and aerial duels won (five).

"Important game for me. It's always part of the game when you fail, when you miss," Rodri said. 

"I was a bit upset last week but of course. I think the best players are the ones who come back easily.

"Today the team was great, even though I scored the first goal. It was important for me, for the mood of the team.

"Here in the Etihad when we can score in the first 15 minutes, it is a different game for us.

"The crowd was amazing, the environment was great. That's what we need. Sometimes the coach speaks about this. We need the [fans] in every game here."

Villa boss Unai Emery, meanwhile, rued sloppy mistakes from his team in the first half.

"We knew this would be a tough game after three away wins but we were not competitive," he told Sky Sports.

"They were clinical, but we made mistakes today, three very important goals we could avoid normally.

"In the second we tried to be consistent, forget the score and be competitive and I think we did that in the second half.

"We have to be clinical with the chances we get, but in the first half they were better than us and decided the match. I can only say sorry to our supporters, and we did not play in the way we have been."

Aston Villa have completed the signing of Alex Moreno from Real Betis, making the left-back their first new arrival since Unai Emery became head coach.

Villa will reportedly pay Betis £13.2million (€15m) including add-ons for the 29-year-old Spaniard, who can also play in a more advanced position on the left flank.

Moreno, who has also represented Mallorca, Rayo Vallecano and Elche, reportedly penned a contract to run until 2027 upon his arrival at Villa Park.

"Alex is a good player that can help our squad," Emery told the club's website. "He has been one of the top left-backs in LaLiga over the past few seasons and we are delighted to have him here."

Emery has led Villa to three wins in his first five Premier League games at the helm since taking over in November.

However, the low point of his tenure to date came on Sunday, as Villa fell to a humiliating FA Cup exit against fourth-tier Stevenage, who stunned the Premier League side with two late goals in a memorable 2-1 victory at Villa Park. 

Stevenage manager Steve Evans revealed that Sunday's stunning FA Cup triumph over Aston Villa had given club chairman Phil Wallace "the greatest day in his life".

The League Two promotion hopefuls sprung a shock at Villa Park, with two late goals securing a 2-1 comeback victory over Unai Emery's Premier League side.

Villa, who had Leander Dendoncker sent off for a foul that led to Jamie Reid's equaliser from the spot before Dean Campbell's 90th-minue winner, have now lost eight consecutive FA Cup games.

But the hosts' woes were far from the mind of victorious boss Evans, who shared a telling snippet from a conversation he had enjoyed with his employer. 

"It is really special," he told BBC Sport. "The chairman just said to me it's the greatest day in his life and he's been with the club for 26-27 years.

"It's a fantastic day for the town but we'll not kid ourselves; this is a fantastic football club and we'll enjoy the moment and these guys have treated us absolutely fantastic since we walked into the building today.

"We'll know to be humble and get on with our jobs for Saturday."

It is indeed back to reality for the fourth-tier club, who head to Harrogate next weekend as their promotion push continues.

For Villa, who welcome Leeds United on Friday, it is a stark reminder that, despite making strides since Emery's appointment in October, they still have a long way to go.

The winning goal came from a short corner as the 10-man hosts failed to close down Campbell, who struck a low shot beyond Robin Olsen.

An apologetic Emery, who made eight changes and saw his men take the lead through Morgan Sanson, said: "They were so excited to try and surprise us in the corner and they did it.

"I'm really sorry for the supporters. It's a process we are [undergoing] here and I want to create [something].

"It was really so, so disappointing. We can feel because at the end we lost everything we created in the 80 minutes."

It is the first time since 1964 that Villa have lost to a fourth-tier outfit while in the top flight.

Unai Emery believes Emiliano Martinez's World Cup-winning mentality will push Aston Villa on for the rest of the Premier League season.

Martinez helped guide Argentina to glory at Qatar 2022, with his penalty shoot-out heroics in the final against France, and a brilliant save in extra time, key to ensuring La Albiceleste ended their 36-year wait for a third world title.

Having helped Lionel Messi get his clutches on football's biggest prize, Martinez has courted controversy for his post-tournament celebrations, including mocking France star Kylian Mbappe, whose hat-trick at Lusail Stadium proved fruitless.

Emery, who had previously promised he would speak to Martinez about his antics, believes Martinez's mentality is an example his club-mates must follow.

"Hopefully he is coming [in] 100 per cent focused on Aston Villa," Emery told reporters ahead of Villa's trip to Tottenham.

"Of course, he needs to adapt quickly again. Every Aston Villa supporter must be proud of him.

"We have, in our team and our squad, a winner of a World Cup, which he deserves. He is pushing his team-mates on the training ground every day.

"When he is coming back we have to try to introduce him again into and to be positive to use his energy and try to use his mentality to help us."

Villa are perched in mid-table in the Premier League, having lost on their return to action against Liverpool on Boxing Day.

Emiliano Martinez returned to Aston Villa on Friday after his World Cup heroics with Argentina, which were followed by controversial and crude post-match celebrations.

Martinez was a penalty shoot-out star for La Albiceleste, helping them to victory over France in the final by saving Kingsley Coman's spot-kick and winning the tournament's Golden Glove award.

However, to many critics the goalkeeper's subsequent celebrations crossed the line of acceptability.

Martinez, whose gamesmanship in the shoot-out had already drawn criticism, appeared to repeatedly taunt beaten France hat-trick hero Kylian Mbappe, while he made a seemingly deliberate lewd gesture with the Golden Glove trophy.

The former Arsenal player called for a "moment of silence" for Mbappe in the dressing room after Argentina's win, and he was seen holding a bizarre puppet with the France forward's face on during homecoming celebrations.

As he arrived at Villa on Friday, Martinez may have had some explaining to do to club bosses.

Head coach Unai Emery last week promised to address Martinez's manner of celebration, saying: "When you have big emotions, sometimes it's difficult to control. I will speak with him next week about some celebrations."

French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet wrote to his Argentina counterparts to complain about abuse aimed at Mbappe, who has since described Martinez's actions as "trivial".

Villa face Tottenham in the Premier League on Sunday, having lost 3-1 to Liverpool in their first game back after the World Cup break.

Unai Emery will address Emiliano Martinez's controversial celebrations following Argentina's World Cup victory when the goalkeeper returns to Aston Villa.

Martinez was the penalty shoot-out hero for La Albiceleste at Qatar 2022, helping them to victory over France in the final.

But it has been suggested the keeper's subsequent celebrations have crossed the line. Martinez, whose gamesmanship in the shoot-out had already drawn criticism, has appeared to repeatedly taunt beaten France hat-trick hero Kylian Mbappe.

Martinez called for a "moment of silence" for Mbappe in the dressing room after Argentina's win and was seen holding a bizarre puppet with the France forward's face on during homecoming celebrations.

French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet revealed this week he had written to his Argentina counterparts to complain about abuse aimed at Mbappe.

Asked about the subject ahead of Villa's return to Premier League action against Liverpool on Boxing Day, Emery stopped short of criticising his player but acknowledged there would be discussions about his conduct.

"When you have big emotions, sometimes it's difficult to control [them]," he stated. "I will speak with him next week about some celebrations.

"But for now, I respect that he is with his national team. When he is going to be with us and under our responsibility, we can speak about it then."

Martinez is to miss the match against Liverpool as he remains in Argentina.

Philippe Coutinho's hopes of representing Brazil at the World Cup are in doubt after the Aston Villa man suffered a quadriceps injury in training.

Coutinho was a surprise absentee from the matchday squad as Unai Emery's Villa beat Manchester United 3-1 in the Spaniard's first game at the helm on Sunday.

The former Liverpool, Barcelona and Bayern Munich creator has failed to score in 12 Premier League appearances this season – although six of those outings have come as a substitute.

The 30-year-old's poor form saw him miss out on Tite's squad when Brazil beat Tunisia and Ghana in September, though he has won five of his 68 senior caps for the Selecao this calendar year.

However, Coutinho's chances of travelling to Qatar appear to be slim after Emery ruled him out of Villa's upcoming trips to United in the EFL Cup and Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League.

"Coutinho is injured," Emery said. "I don't know how long it will be, but today he couldn't play and he's not going to play until after the break. 

"It's a muscular injury. He's not going to play on Thursday or Sunday because he's out for longer."

Coutinho was omitted from Brazil's squad for their home World Cup campaign in 2014, but was a regular during the side's run to the quarter-finals in Russia four years later, scoring against Switzerland and Costa Rica.

Brazil are considered among the favourites to win the tournament, and face Serbia in their Group G opener on November 24 at the Lusail Stadium.

The World Cup break may be just around the corner, but there remains plenty of life in the Premier League campaign, as another action-packed Sunday showed.

The day was book-ended by two heavyweight clashes, with Mikel Arteta's Arsenal moving back to the top of the table by beating Chelsea in a tense London derby in the early kick-off.

Later on, Liverpool finally clinched their first away win of the Premier League campaign as Mohamed Salah tormented Tottenham.

Elsewhere, Unai Emery made a memorable start to his Aston Villa reign and Newcastle United went third by tearing Southampton apart on the south coast.

Here, Stats Perform looks through the best facts of the day.

Tottenham 1-2 Liverpool: Salah ends Red's dismal away run

Liverpool had failed to win an away Premier League game this season (D2 L3), and needed a result as the prospect of slipping 13 points behind Spurs loomed.

Jurgen Klopp's side may have struggled, but Salah's recent form has been imperious, and he handed the visitors a strong start by drilling home an 11th-minute opener.

Salah then capitalised on Eric Dier's error to double Liverpool's lead, and he has now contributed to 19 goals in 20 games for Liverpool this season (14 goals, five assists). Only last season (28) has the Egyptian recorded more goal involvements in his first 20 appearances of a campaign for the Reds.

Meanwhile, the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is the 24th different away venue Salah has scored at for Liverpool in the Premier League – only Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen (both 25) have bettered that tally for the Reds.

Harry Kane ensured a nervy finish when he became the first Spurs player to score in six consecutive home Premier League appearances after the break, but Liverpool held firm to claim a huge win. 

Chelsea 0-1 Arsenal: Gabriel earns Gunners another statement win

Sunday's first game saw Arsenal return to the summit with a 1-0 victory against Chelsea, becoming the first team to win 10 away games against the Blues in the competition, and just the second to win on three successive trips to Stamford Bridge (after Blackburn Rovers from 1993-94 to 1995-96).

Gabriel Magalhaes got a touch on Bukayo Saka's corner to decide a hard-fought game – all nine of his league goals for Arsenal have come from corners, and no Premier League player has scored more goals from such situations since he arrived in the division in 2020.

Chelsea looked disjointed throughout, managing just five shots as they slipped to back-to-back Premier League defeats for the first time since December 2020 (under Frank Lampard).

Arsenal, however, look like the real deal. Having beaten Tottenham and Liverpool last month, the Gunners have won three consecutive league games against 'big six' opponents for the first time since April 2012. 

It was a miserable reunion with his former side for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who had just eight touches before being taken off by Graham Potter just after the hour.

Aston Villa 3-1 Manchester United: Emery makes flying start

At Villa Park, all eyes were on Emery as the Spaniard made his Premier League return just under three years after being sacked by Arsenal, and he could hardly have wished for a better start.

Leon Bailey and Lucas Digne put Villa 2-0 up within 11 minutes – the earliest point at which United have trailed by two goals in a Premier League game since October 2018 against Newcastle (10th minute).

Jacob Ramsey's own goal dragged United back into contention before he atoned by making the points safe for Villa, ensuring Emery became just the fourth coach to win his first Premier League game in charge of a team when facing the Red Devils.

On an eventful day for Ramsey, he became the fourth player in Premier League history to record a goal, an assist and an own goal in the same game, after Kevin Davies, Wayne Rooney and Gareth Bale.

United have now lost nine away league games in 2022 – their most in a calendar year since 1989 (12).

Southampton 1-4 Newcastle United: Miggy on the mark again as Magpies cruise

Eddie Howe's Newcastle have arguably been the story of the Premier League season to date, and they continued their stunning form by thrashing Southampton 4-1 at St Mary's.

Newcastle have now scored four or more goals four times in their last seven Premier League games, as often as they did in their previous 226 outings in the competition.

Miguel Almiron opened the scoring, becoming the eighth different player to net in four consecutive Premier League matches for Newcastle, and only the second non-Englishman to do so after Papiss Cisse.

Chris Wood and Joe Willock also got on the scoresheet before Bruno Guimaraes bent a 25-yard effort into the bottom-right corner, scoring his eighth goal in 28 league games for the Magpies, having netted just three times in 56 Ligue 1 outings for former club Lyon.

The result piled more pressure on Ralph Hasenhuttl, with Southampton now winless in their last 14 Premier League games against teams starting the day inside the top four (D5 L9).

Unai Emery marked his return to English football in style as Aston Villa beat Manchester United 3-1 at Villa Park in the Premier League on Sunday.

The hosts needed just seven minutes to take the lead, Leon Bailey firing home, with Lucas Digne then dispatching a free-kick shortly after to leave Villa in control.

United pulled one back in the first half, Jacob Ramsey directing Luke Shaw's effort from distance into his own net, but he then scored at the right end shortly after the restart.

Erik ten Hag's side could not find a response, with Villa's defence never truly tested on what was another frustrating day for United.

Emery's return to the Premier League began in ideal fashion, Ramsey feeding a pass through to Bailey who showed his pace to find space away from Lisandro Martinez before sending his shot into the bottom-right corner.

The home side doubled their lead four minutes later as Lucas Digne expertly converted a free-kick from just outside the area to leave David de Gea with no chance and send Villa Park into pandemonium.

United reduced the deficit before the interval, Shaw letting loose from distance and the strike taking a wicked deflection off Ramsey.

Villa restored their two-goal lead three minutes into the second half, Ollie Watkins driving forward and laying off a pass to Ramsey, who arrived inside the box to fire a fierce effort into the roof of the net.

United failed to threaten a revival and suffered their fourth defeat of the season and first since the start of October.

Unai Emery preached patience as he met the media for the first time as Aston Villa coach on Friday, but that did not stop him setting a "personal challenge" to bring silverware to Villa Park.

Emery started work as Villa boss this week having left former club Villarreal, where he achieved Europa League success in the 2020-21 season.

But initial ambitions will have to be more modest at Villa, with the side 16th in the Premier League table ahead of Sunday's clash with Manchester United.

If results go against his new team on Saturday, Emery could find himself in the relegation zone by the time of his first match in charge.

For that reason, Emery had a dash of realism to go with his optimistic plans for the future on his return to the Premier League.

"My dream is to win a trophy with Aston Villa," said the former Arsenal manager, who was asked if Villa could qualify for Europe this season.

"It's my personal challenge at the beginning. And my second dream, my objective could be to play with Aston Villa in Europe.

"But now we have to start thinking only [about] the next match because we are not in a good position in the table now, and each match is going to give us a lot of information from the players and I want to test, to check individually and collectively the players.

"The next match is my only focus now, Sunday against Manchester United, and, of course, playing here at home."

In the Premier League, only Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Antonio Conte could reasonably claim not to be envious of Unai Emery's CV.

Emery has coached in three of Europe's top five leagues and won one domestic league title and four of five major European finals.

As recently as May, Emery's Villarreal were going toe-to-toe with Klopp's Liverpool in the Champions League semi-finals.

Yet Emery is returning to England with a side battling against relegation – as he might have done 12 months ago when he was Newcastle United's top target.

Although the Spaniard's two most recent Europa League successes came in finals against Liverpool and Manchester United, he is best recognised in the Premier League as an ultimately underwhelming Arsenal manager, far since surpassed by Mikel Arteta.

So rather than contenders who might realistically allow Emery to immediately add to his trophy haul, it was Aston Villa – only a point clear of the bottom three – who came calling as he makes his latest move with a point to prove.

This is a gamble, just as it would have been a year ago had Emery gone through with the switch to St James' Park.

But he is at least joining a club who, like Newcastle, intend to return to the level at which their new head coach is used to operating.

Former Villa boss Steven Gerrard spoke at the start of the season of the need to "reach for the stars" – an ambition that was not achieved as his side lost six of their 11 league matches before he was sacked.

Gerrard had fallen short of his aim of "continuous improvement", Villa chief executive Christian Purslow said, and it is to that standard that Emery will also be held.

Fourth-placed Newcastle's progress under Eddie Howe – their second-choice when the Emery deal fell through – perhaps provides the template.

Indeed, Howe's Newcastle kindly exposed last Saturday the scale of the task before Emery at Villa Park if he is to again display his almost unmatched expertise in continental competition.

A 4-0 thrashing on Tyneside brought Villa back down to Earth after the previous week's demolition of Brentford by the same scoreline. The defeat was more in keeping with the mood around this team.

Villa have earned a joint-low two away points in the Premier League this season, while they have only recovered two points from losing positions home or away. For all the talent in this squad, they are far too prone to collapse.

When Callum Wilson's penalty in first-half stoppage time broke Villa's resolve, they never looked like regaining any measure of control. Wilson had another goal disallowed before the half-time whistle sounded, teeing up a second period in which Newcastle were swiftly four up.

Despite Tyrone Mings' criticism of Villa's "naivety" in attacking while goals flew in at the other end, the visitors' final attempt of the match came in the 29th minute.

Emery does not have a great deal of time to drill his methods into the team if they are to quickly kick clear of danger before the World Cup.

After his first few days on the training pitch, the first task is Manchester United at home, followed by the same team again at Old Trafford in the EFL Cup.

Meetings with United might remind Emery of Europa League glory; for Villa fans, there will be fears of further punishment.

Meanwhile, Emery will enjoy no Emirates Stadium return in the Premier League this season, with Villa having already lost at Arsenal in August, although Arteta's men are to visit Villa Park in mid-February.

Results on Saturday could see Villa in the bottom three before Emery takes charge, as Arsenal aim to protect their place at the top of the table against Chelsea.

By the time Emery meets his former employers and successor Arteta in league action, he and Villa need that picture to have altered considerably.

Villarreal have appointed former Barcelona boss Quique Setien as their new head coach following Unai Emery's decision to leave for Aston Villa.

The Premier League club appointed Villarreal's 2021 Europa League-winning coach on Monday after sacking Steven Gerrard, but the Yellow Submarine have moved quickly to secure a successor.

A statement released on Villarreal's website on Tuesday confirmed Setien had signed a contract to run until the end of the 2023-24 season.

Setien built a reputation for favouring an attractive, possession-based style during a two-year spell with Real Betis, but has not coached since enduring an ill-fated stint at Camp Nou during the 2019-20 campaign.

Setien's final game at Barca was their historic 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals in August 2020, while the Blaugrana also finished five points adrift of Real Madrid at the LaLiga summit that season.

Villarreal sit seventh in LaLiga after winning five of their 11 games this term, and Setien's first game at the helm will be Thursday's Europa Conference League meeting with Hapoel Be'er Sheva.

New Aston Villa head coach Unai Emery thanked Villarreal for allowing him to show his "best version" during two years with the Yellow Submarine.

Villa confirmed Emery as Steven Gerrard's successor on Monday, with the Basque coach set to formally take the reins on November 1.

Gerrard was sacked straight after last Thursday's chastening 3-0 Premier League defeat at Fulham, which left them with just nine points from 11 matches.

Emery's appointment sees him return to the Premier League after previously succeeding Arsene Wenger at Arsenal and spending 18 months with the Gunners before being dismissed in November 2019.

He joined Villarreal eight months later and enjoyed just over two years at Estadio de la Ceramica, leading them to Europa League success in 2021 – the fourth of his career, a record – and the Champions League semi-finals earlier this year.

Speaking at a farewell press conference on Tuesday, Emery paid tribute to Villarreal for giving him the backing and resources to be his best self.

"Here I have been very me," he told reporters in an emotional address.

"They gave me the conditions to be my best version of me, [but] you have to continue having challenges.

"In Villarreal I've had a home. I called Fernando [Roig, club president] on Friday to tell him the situation, that I wanted to play the game on Sunday and then on Monday to meet again.

"[On Monday] everything was unleashed. I called Fernando only when there was already something more serious going on."

On his move, Emery added: "It is a professional and personal decision.

"I always carry my baggage, with many complicated and beautiful moments. Here I found a very important family and I have felt something of heart again.

"But the profession is within me. I felt I had to take this option. It's a different challenge, but professionally a very good one."

First-team coach Aaron Danks took charge of Villa's 4-0 win over Brentford on Sunday and will remain at the helm for Saturday's trip to Newcastle United.

Emery's time at Villa will begin with back-to-back matches against Manchester United, first hosting them in the Premier League on November 6 before going to Old Trafford four days later in the EFL Cup.

Aston Villa have confirmed the appointment of Unai Emery as the club's new head coach, following the sacking of Steven Gerrard.

The former Arsenal boss returns to the Premier League after rebuilding his reputation with success at Villarreal, clinching Europa League glory in 2021 and reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League last season.

Villa, who stopped the rot with a 4-0 thrashing of Brentford on Sunday under first team coach Aaron Danks, confirmed the Spaniard will take his position on November 1 and will therefore not be in the dugout for Saturday's trip to face Newcastle United.

It means Emery's first task will be back-to-back tests against Manchester United, hosting Erik ten Hag's side in the Premier League on November 6 before travelling to Old Trafford four days later in the EFL Cup.

Emery will then lead Villa into a Premier League clash with Brighton and Hove Albion, the final game before the season pauses for the World Cup in Qatar.

Villa's win against Brentford, their first in four Premier League matches, took the team to 15th in the table, three points above the relegation zone.

Football loves a redemption story, and it's fair to say Granit Xhaka is living one right now.

You don't have to cast your mind back too far to recall a time when the Switzerland international was practically persona non grata at Arsenal – in the fans' eyes, anyway.

Red cards, becoming a scapegoat, falling out with the supporters in the most public way imaginable: Xhaka's Arsenal career has rarely been straightforward.

And yet, as Mikel Arteta's Gunners prepare to make something of a title statement against Liverpool on Sunday, Xhaka knows his will be one of the first names on the team, and deservedly so.

It serves to highlight his unlikely return from the brink.

The problems

Xhaka arrived at Arsenal with a reputation as a clever but combative midfielder who was more than happy to get stuck in. After all, his five red cards in from the start of the 2013-14 season until the end of 2015-16 was the most of any Bundesliga player over that period, and only two players were booked more often (29).

There was an acceptance his style of play would be a risk, though many Gunners fans were adamant such forcefulness was missing from their midfield.

While Xhaka did show many qualities during his debut season, it was his disciplinary record and aggressive style that unsurprisingly defined him in the eyes of many, as he was shown three red cards across all competitions in the 2016-17 campaign.

He did then go three successive seasons without a red card, attributing his initial improvement in that area to Arsene Wenger back in November 2017, with video analysis seemingly crucial to the midfielder's learning. Though it should be said, he amassed 10 yellows in each of those three league campaigns, so it wasn't as if he suddenly became an angel.

The thing is, Xhaka's wild side may have been embraced or at least more readily forgiven were it not for his other on-pitch woes. Between August 2016 and September 2020, his 16 Opta-defined errors leading to shots were five more than any other Arsenal player across all competitions, while only Petr Cech and Bernd Leno (both seven) – goalkeepers, so you'd expect them to be punished more – committed a greater number of errors that led to goals (six).

Similarly, Xhaka's five penalty concessions over the same period was a joint-high at Arsenal with David Luiz. Essentially, there was a common perception emerging that he was liability even if he wasn't getting sent off.

The downfall

It was the last 12 months of the aforementioned four-year period when Xhaka's Arsenal days appeared numbered. In October 2019, exactly a month after being made captain, Xhaka was substituted during Crystal Palace's visit to the Emirates Stadium and a chorus of boos was aimed in his direction.

Xhaka made sarcastic gestures to the crowd in response, cupped his ear and then appeared to swear at the Arsenal fans as he was replaced by Bukayo Saka. He swiftly removed his jersey on his way down the tunnel.

Former Arsenal players and fans alike called for him to lose the captaincy after head coach Unai Emery suggested Xhaka shouldn't have reacted as he did.

On November 5, Arsenal confirmed Xhaka had been stripped of the armband and he didn't play again until the end of the month when the Gunners faced Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League – he had missed five games in all.

In the intervening period, Xhaka provided an explanation for his actions, detailing how months of abuse at matches and on social media had seen him reach "boiling point". He professed his love for the club and encouraged everyone to "move forward positively together".

Remarkably, that's what happened.

The redemption

It bears remembering, the atmosphere around Arsenal was toxic enough even without the Xhaka situation – December saw Emery replaced by Arteta, and the latter was unequivocal in his desire to keep Xhaka at the club.

A move to Hertha Berlin had been agreed, according to the player's agent, and that appeared to be the end. But, with the January 2020 transfer window only a day old, Arteta revealed Xhaka had assured him he was staying.

Six months later, Xhaka emphasised the importance of Arteta in that decision. He told BT Sport: "I was very, very close to leaving the club. I had, until this [Palace incident], had a great, great time in this football club. It was never in my mind to leave the club before, but after this happened, of course you think about it.

"When Mikel arrived, I had a very good meeting with him, very good conversations. Mikel was the guy. He turned me around and gave me a second chance, and he showed me he trusted me and I have tried to give him everything back."

Since then, he's steadily won back the faith of Arsenal fans and is arguably enjoying the finest spell of his Arsenal career. This season, he's already got two goals and three assists in eight Premier League games – only in 2018-19 (four) has he scored more goals in a single campaign for the Gunners, while only in 2017-18 has he provided more assists (seven).

So, to anyone wondering what's changed, the answer is fairly clear: Xhaka's playing a more advanced role and this is allowing his strengths – distribution, shooting – to shine. For much of his Arsenal career, he's been used as the deepest midfielder, but that's no longer the case with Thomas Partey the first choice in that role.

With more freedom to get forward, Xhaka's creating 2.2 chances from open play every 90 minutes (all comps.) – his previous best in that regard for Arsenal or Borussia Monchengladbach was 1.2. Granted, those were over full seasons, but that shouldn't detract from an obvious greater creative influence.

While he is making fewer tackles and interceptions than ever before, the fact only four midfielders have more than his five Premier League goal involvements this term suggests it's not a problematic sacrifice.

The Granit Xhaka most have known throughout his Premier League career was associated with work rate and destructive tendencies, but his current guise suggests he's not only enjoyed a redemption but a rebirth.

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