After Granit Xhaka was among Switzerland’s better performers in this close-fought win, Valon Behrami told of informing Arsenal’s new midfielder he may enjoy a drop in his yellow card count because his abrasive style is more suited to the Premier League.
Xhaka, 23, flew into one first-half tackle on Albania’s Amir Abrashi that might have been a red card, never mind a booking. Yet Arsène Wenger’s £30m signing escaped without sanction from Carlos Velasco Carballo, the Spanish referee.
Xhaka has arrived at Arsenal from Borussia Mönchengladbach and Watford’s Behrami, who partnered him in Vladimir Petkovic’s 4-2-3-1, pointed to how he could be over-zealous. “Sometimes his physicality in Germany was even considered too much. The first time I saw him after the signing [for Arsenal] I said: ‘Now you’re not going to get so many yellow cards.’ Of course it’s not easy,” the 31-year-old said. “The first two or three months you need a bit of time but he is prepared for a team like Arsenal.”
Xhaka’s willingness to hunt down anyone in a red shirt impressed and was a prime factor in an opening Group A victory sealed by Fabian Schär’s fifth-minute header. Behrami made a neat observation when stating this aspect of his game may allow him to instantly adapt to the Premier League hurly-burly.
“Many players take a while to get used to the physical side of English football but he is ready for that. He loves a tackle,” said the former West Ham United player.
The other side of the Basel-born midfielder suggests Wenger may finally have obtained an all-round operator for Arsenal’s engine room. Against Gianni De Biasi’s side, in what was Albania’s first game in a major finals after 70 years of playing international football, Xhaka also sat and controlled play. Up against a team containing his 25-year-old brother, Taulant, the younger Xhaka was as astute at pinging off passes as he was at stopping opponents and Behrami said: “He loves to win the ball. He’s a great character with a lot of quality with his feet, good control of the ball and the ability to switch the play. He’s the complete modern player and I think he’s a great signing for Arsenal.
“He’s definitely more responsible now. He knows his quality much better and that’s why he doesn’t try something different. He stays with his game and he reads the game very well. His strength is he is such an intelligent player. He knows his quality and plays on his maximum.”
Xherdan Shaqiri, whose corner was finished by Schär, is an admirer of Xhaka, too, though the Stoke City forward warned of difficulties ahead. “I hope he is physical,” said the 24-year-old, who left Internazionale for the Britannia Stadium. “It is not simple to play in England. Coming from Germany or Italy it is different. It was difficult for me, too. It is the best league in the world and it is the best showcase for every player. I hope he can go there and play a lot of games.
“Every player wants to play in England. He knows what it is like. He has played in the Champions League against English teams [Manchester City last season] – and he will find out when he goes there.”
Next season Watford will be managed by Walter Mazzarri following the departure of Quique Sánchez Flores – a decision that Behrami fully understood. “No. I wasn’t surprised,” he said. “After January the team didn’t win so much. He wasn’t focused all the time. We take it normally. Some will take it bad and some will take it good. For me it wasn’t a problem. I know how [Giampaolo] Pozzo [the owner] and this club works. He is not focused on the manager, he is focused on the team.”
Switzerland play Romania on Wednesday at the Parc des Princes, while Albania face France in Marseille.
Shaqiri, another of Albanian extraction, said of the win: “It was difficult, of course. There was a lot of pressure on us, because we have a lot of players from Albania and from Kosovo but in the end we won the game and that is the most important thing.”
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