Everyone was extremely surprised at the beginning of this season, when Unai Emery appointed Granit Xhaka as Arsenal captain, and even more surprised when we heard that all the players had voted for him.
The fans were never really convinced because they felt that the Swiss international was not influential enough on the pitch, and every mistake he’d ever made was brought out amid widespread criticism, so much so that Emery felt he had to come to his defence. “First, he is mature and he has experience and we are all living all the time under pressure, under criticism as coaches, as players, as a club,” Emery said. “The most important thing is to stand up in each moment, go ahead and [for him] to show his quality, with his behaviour, with his commitment and in the dressing room the players voted for him as the first.
Emery stood up for him then, but he didn’t defend his captain when the abuse got too much that he lashed out at the jeering Arsenal fans. He also stripped Xhaka of the captaincy, dropped him from the team and basically convinced him that he had to leave the club.
Luckily Arteta arrived just in time to persuade Xhaka not to join Hertha Berlin, and made it clear that he wanted Xhaka back as an integral part of the team. The Boss was repaid last night with an immense performance from Xhaka when he had to cover for the sent-off David Luiz as centre-back, and showed he was a true leader at the back.
Arteta gave him great praise after the match. “From day one, I spoke with him.” the Boss told Arsenal.com. “Obviously his mind was a little bit varied after a lot of things that happened to him in his life and his family. I tried to convince him that it was the right place for him to play. I wanted to try to give him the opportunity to try to enjoy playing football again.
“Everything I ask him to do, every training session, he’s like this and is willing to do it. Today, I knew the moment I put him there, I don’t know how well he was going to do but he was going to put everything in. He was great.”
He was better than great, but in a true captain’s manner he praised all his team-mates instead. “We showed big character,” Xhaka told the BBC. “A lot of people say we have no character in the team. We showed in this game we have.”
It was great to see the whole team come together and fight to make up for the loss of David Luiz, and even Mustafi didn’t drop his head after his ghastly mistake and played a blinder in the second half alongside Xhaka.
You can tell that Arteta admires him, and we can see the players respect him immensely.
Perhaps he will be made captain again one day?