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Arby’s here, and he’s beautiful

Now that he’s made his league debut, just how important will Arbenit Xhemajli be in these final games of the season? Paddy Hollis is hopeful that the Kosovo international has finally arrived!

Sunderland’s unexpected 3-0 victory at Wigan was just that; unexpected.

Our form since the turn of the year made for grim reading, and a trip to a side pushing for the top two felt like a match where our fortunes wouldn’t change.

Yet we played some of the football which had us in the top two just a matter of weeks ago, and put a team almost destined for the Championship to the sword.

The first unexpected event of the day came with the announcement of the line-up, and the inclusion of one player in particular.

Arbenit Xhemajli has had a torrid time on Wearside since signing in the summer of 2020.

Moving country during a global pandemic at the age of 22 would be a big ask for anyone, but to then get injured shortly after your first team debut and be out of action for well over a year was another challenge for him altogether.

Xhemajli has been available this season, but before the trip to Wigan had only managed to make it as an unused substitute.

His lack of inclusion in the squad had been questioned, especially given the injury concerns which Danny Batth and Bailey Wright pose as well as the desperate need for Callum Doyle to be given a break.

These questions were finally answered with his inclusion in the side alongside Wright at the heart of our defence.

To say this was his first league match after over 18 months at Sunderland, Xhemajli put in a very impressive performance.

Cool on the ball, strong on and off it and an eye for a decent pass, the central defender looked very much at home.

FC Luzern v Neuchatel Xamax FCS - Swiss Raiffeisen Super League Photo by Marcio Machado/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images

This successful breakthrough into the first team is hugely beneficial for himself, his teammates and his manager.

With a reliable extra option in the centre back department, Alex Neil may now be giving a more relaxed look at that particular position.

The departure of Ollie Younger and Tom Flanagan in January whilst only signing one new centre back looked to be a collection of decisions that could cost Sunderland promotion.

Our form since then made it look as though these concerns would become reality, but in the emergence of Xhemajli that situation looks at least to be eased, if only slightly.

For me, he feels like a new signing given how little we’ve seen of him. Now having Xhemajli, Doyle, Wright and Baath, our options in the middle of the defence look far more healthy than they did a month ago.

With 11 games left, we’re going to need everyone pulling their weight across the pitch.

Xhemajili will likely feel he has more to offer than most given his time on the sidelines, and this can only be good for the club.

In him, we could not only have a key player for the run in this season, but also someone who could become a staple of our squad for years to come.

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