Arsenal have won all five of their opening Premier League games, a feat they have not achieved since the 2004-05 season, and they head to Old Trafford on Sunday to face Manchester United top of the table.
Mikel Arteta’s side dominated Villa, but they needed a late Gabriel Martinelli winner after Douglas Luiz scored straight from a corner to cancel out Gabriel Jesus’s first-half opener.
Luiz’s goal — seconds after coming on as a substitute — came in the 74th minute and threatened to undo all of Arsenal’s good work, but within three minutes the Gunners had restored their lead through Martinelli.
Reacting quickly to conceding has been a theme of Arsenal’s season so far. They have let in four goals in five games, but on average they have responded with a goal in under four minutes.
“I think it was the biggest goal for us, to change this mentality,” said Xhaka. “I’ve been here seven years and I saw a lot of things, good and bad things, but we were always struggling a little bit in this way. You could play good football, everything looks good, but sometimes the 50-50 ball, the 50-50 games, you have to take it for you. I think today we won the 50-50 duels as well.
“Then you turn everything around and you start to believe with each other a little more. The fans start to believe in us as well and this is football. It’s not only with the ball, but without the ball as well. I think the game-changer at the moment is the mentality.”
Xhaka believes the arrivals of Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko from champions Manchester City have helped changed the mentality, as they are proven winners.
But the midfielder has also singled out Arteta for making sure players keep their standards high in training.
“It doesn’t matter what we do in the training, if it’s ball possession, if it’s games, small games against each other, he is putting us on a list — who is the winner, who is the loser — and in the end you can see the table,” said Xhaka. “This is what we have to do. We have to put each other in a big challenge, you can see we have a big squad.”
Despite their fine start to the season, Arsenal have come under criticism recently after they were ridiculed for the way they celebrated beating Fulham last weekend.
But Xhaka said: “Listen, people forget sometimes. I have been in Switzerland, in Germany, the Premier League is totally different.
“You can play against the last [team] and you will struggle for 90 minutes. You don’t have a team here that gives up. It doesn’t matter if they are 3-0 up or 3-0 down, they go for 90 minutes. You have respect for every club and the people, if they say that we can’t celebrate because it was Fulham, they don’t respect the Fulham team.”
Sunday’s opponents United are 12th in the League, but Xhaka is not underestimating them.
“I know they are maybe not looking at the moment so good, but it’s Manchester United. It’s always difficult,” he said. “They are in the same position maybe that we were three years ago. They are building something as well. We have respect for them — but we go there to take the three points.”