Granit Xhaka’s Resurgence
Granit Xhaka’s resurgence in recent weeks has been quite remarkable. And not for the first time in his Gunners career.
The Swiss midfielder was sent off for grabbing the throat of Ashley Westwood in a 1-0 defeat to the Clarets back in December. That defeat saw Arsenal winless in five games, and hovering just five points above the relegation zone. Xhaka was made the scapegoat by Arsenal fans on social media, receiving a torrent of criticism for his actions.
However, our ex-captain is no stranger to criticism from the fans. The curtain was seemingly pulled on the 28 year-old’s Arsenal career back in October 2019. After being substituted against Crystal Palace, Xhaka was booed by sections of the Emirates crowd. Xhaka responded by swearing and rudely gesturing towards the fans, before throwing his shirt on the ground and storming down the tunnel. Following this, he was stripped of the captaincy and omitted from the team for around a month. This was the final straw for the midfielder; a January transfer seemed inevitable.
The episode against Palace was evidence that a storm was brewing. Xhaka had been receiving abuse on social media for weeks prior, and had finally reached boiling point. In a recent interview with The Guardian, the Swiss international has opened up on that now notorious incident. “…October 2019 was the hardest time for me as a footballer… the attacks on my wife and the targeted comments about my daughter, my friends – that’s really beyond the pale.”
Xhaka also reserved some criticism for pundits in the UK, claiming their negative and somewhat personal comments on players invite waves of social media criticism, “something you never see in Switzerland or Germany.” With abuse of professional footballers rising, there have been calls by regulatory bodies, ex-professionals and coaches for social media platforms to better police derogatory comments made online. There is a difference between criticism and abuse – fans must recognise this.
Luckily for Xhaka (and Arsenal fans for that matter), Emery’s dismissal and Arteta’s arrival threw the forgotten man a lifeline, another chance in an Arsenal shirt. In the same interview with The Guardian, Xhaka has revealed the immediate impact Arteta had on his career. “We had a really great one-to-one chat – very open, very positive, very long. He looked deep into me, into my thinking, and he persuaded me that we should go on together, stick with each other on this Arsenal project.” This chat seemingly lit a fire in Xhaka’s belly. The Swiss midfielder formed a robust partnership with his Spanish counterpart, Dani Ceballos, and was pivotal in the Gunner’s record-extending 14th FA Cup victory.
14 months on from the Palace incident and Xhaka once again saw red; literally and metaphorically. Perhaps luckily for the 28 year-old, there were no fans inside the stadium to react to his sending off against Burnley. But Xhaka has learnt from his past demons. “I can’t alter what’s happened, it’s a fait accompli but it’s my mistake and I can learn from it.” The midfielder came straight back into the starting XI following his 3 game suspension, scoring a sumptuous free-kick in the 3-1 triumph over Chelsea. He has been an ever-present at the base of the midfield, playing ever Premier League minute since his return. Arguably in the form of his career, Xhaka’s budding partnership with summer signing Thomas Partey is something to be excited about.
Now one of Arsenal’s longest serving players, Granit Xhaka will forever remain a divisive figure amongst the Emirates faithful. He is like Marmite – you either love him or hate him. I know fans who have his name on the back of every Arsenal shirt, and others who refuse to speak his name. But whatever you think of his footballing abilities, there is no doubting his mental toughness. He has twice got his Arsenal career back on track and is currently one of the first names on the team sheet.
Long may his form continue!
Photo Credit: Flickr
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