Granit Xhaka feels that we’re heading to Newcastle United with rediscovered confidence following our 3-1 success against Chelsea on Tuesday.
An excellent first-half display helped wash away the disappointment of a four-game run without a win as we kept ourselves in the title hunt with a fine London derby win, and the Swiss midfielder believes there has since been an extra spring in our players’ step as they build up to another big game at St James’ Park.
Speaking beforehand, Granit said: “If I’m honest it’s crazy how quickly football can change. After the four games we didn't win maybe confidence was a little bit down, but then you have a great chance to play against Chelsea and show a reaction and I think that reaction was very good.
“Straight away, the next day you see the confidence is back but it is just the first step after the four games we didn’t win. Hopefully we can do that for the next four games as well.”
That starts with Sunday’s trip to high-flying Newcastle who sit just a position behind us in the table as both teams aim to play in the Champions League next season. That was our goal when we last arrived on Tyneside a year ago, where a 2-0 win for a Magpies side buzzing after avoiding relegation virtually ended those dreams.
Reflecting on how much has changed in the past 12 months for both teams, Granit analysed: “It was a very painful day, I hope we’re a different team now. We’re in a different position as well - we have respect for Newcastle because what they’re doing is amazing and nobody would have expected that from them, but maybe [the same for] us as well before the season.
“We know how strong they are, they’re stronger than last season, that’s for sure. At home when we played against them, we had the better chances and were the better team, but they are very organised.
“They know exactly what they are doing with a great coach as well, and we have to be 100 per cent focused. Hopefully with luck, with our intensity and with our level, we can beat them.”
Granit was certainly at his best on Tuesday as he laid on two assists for his midfield partner Martin Odegaard, taking his tallies up to seven goals and seven assists in all competitions, with those 14 goal involvements easily surpassing his previous best of 11.
That has come thanks to a switch of position further upfield, allowing him to get involved in more of our attacking moves. While he admits he found the role difficult at first, he is now really relishing being a more creative influence in Mikel Arteta’s team.
“It was not easy for me in the beginning when I needed to change my position,” he said. “I had never played there before in my career, but I had a really good conversation with Mikel about it.
“Step by step and game by game everything got better. I started to score and started to get assists and show I can play a different role.”
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