Arsenal star and Switzerland captain Granit Xhaka, has spoken about how Gunners boss Mikel Arteta changed his mind, after the midfielder was all set to leave the club.
Xhaka’s career in North London has been turbulent, to say the least. The midfielder gained a reputation for being a reckless player, often costing his side by either getting sent off or giving away penalties.
The Swiss captain has seen a red card four times in the league since his debut, with another sending off coming against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup last season. He’s also given away six penalties during his time in the Premier League, with only Laurent Koscielny (8) giving away more as an Arsenal player (via Opta).
The Arsenal midfielder’s relationship with the fans effectively broke down in October 2019 after Xhaka threw his top off and was seen cussing the fans after they boo’ed him off the pitch. Since then, many Arsenal fans were convinced he had to leave, and that the relationship was irreparable. Even Xhaka has admitted he thought his time in North London was over.
Fast forward to just under three years, and Xhaka’s name is now being sung by Arsenal fans. A remarkable turnaround considering what had occurred. This comes off a year of much improved performances, especially at the start of this season where Xhaka looks like a new player. Arguably Arsenal’s best this campaign thus far.
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has deployed the Swiss International in a more advanced role. This not only brings out the best in Xhaka’s technical quality, as seen in his brilliant performance for The Gunners in their win over Brentford on the weekend, but also allows for him to make the occasional error further up the pitch, where it’s less likely to cost the North Londoners. Xhaka already has a goal and three assists in seven Premier League games this season, such is his quality being enhanced in this new role.
Arteta should not only be given credit for changing his role and getting the best out of Xhaka, but also for convincing him to stay at The Gunners to begin with.
In letter to The Players’ Tribune called ‘Let Me Set a Few Things Straight’, Xhaka revealed it was the Spaniard who convinced him to stay: “As we all know, I was left out of the squad and lost the captaincy. When Mikel was appointed in December (2019), I told him that I wanted to leave. He understood completely. We had a second chat a few days later, and when I went in, I had talked it through with my wife. Our suitcases were literally placed by the door.
“When I have made a decision like that, it is very difficult to change my mind. But then Mikel began to talk about how I was a big part of his plans. I liked his warmth. He was honest, straight. Clear plans. I felt I could trust him. He told me to give him six months to prove me wrong, and then if I still wanted to leave, no problem.
“Normally I spend a lot of time making these decisions. I talk to everyone around me, I weigh up the pros and cons. But that day I broke my own rules.
“I told Mikel, ‘O.K.’
“I called my wife and my parents. ‘We’re staying. Unpack the bags. This is a new challenge. Either you are with me, or I’ll go it alone, because I will go through with this.’
“Mikel and I didn’t speak about my future again, because after six months I was happy. Today I know I made the right decision, absolutely, because I’m still here.”
Arsenal fans will be grateful to their gaffer for turning around a situation that seemed unsalvageable. Xhaka’s relationship with the fans may never be the same, as revealed by the player in the letter, but it is much healthier now, culminating in the chant at the Brentford game.
Arsenal will be hoping Xhaka can continue this form throughout the rest of the campaign and his career at The Emirates, as most fans have gone silent on The Gunners’ failed pursuit of Youri Tielemans or any player in his position, such has been the quality of performance exhibited by the Swiss captain this season.