Granit Xhaka – The rollercoaster from Gooners scapegoat to Arsenal’s hero

October 2019, with Arsenal being held 2-2 by Crystal Palace, Granit Xhaka was subbed.

As he walked off the jeers were apparent. Our then captain responded by cupping his ears and encouraging the crowd to chant louder …. which they did. Our skipper then threw the armband to the floor.

The midfielder had been subjected to this in previous fixtures, but it wasn’t as apparent as we had won those games. The Swiss had long been an easy scapegoat. Along with the likes of Mustafi, it had become an unfortunate trend among our fan base to single out certain individuals for critique.

This was Gooners venting. From no longer being able to ‘only finish 4th’, to the humiliation in Baku, to the decline under Unai Emery, throwing away a 2-0 lead at home to the Eagles was enough for some.

Nearly three years on, the same player isn’t just playing for the Gunners, he’s scoring crucial goals. Like his strike last season against Man United, Xhaka’s goal in the NLD saw the Emirates collectively put their arms round a man they are now proud to have wearing their shirt, he’s now a popular scorer. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still got a mistake and a dodgy red card in him, but just for a moment on Saturday, player and Gooners were united.

The 28-year-old has admitted to being open to a return to Germany the January following him being stripped of the captaincy. He was content with the assumption he would never represent the Gunners again, especially when he refused his manager’s advice to apologise for his actions.

That’s worth remembering. Xhaka has never said sorry, and while some can’t forgive that, others admired a man sticking to his principles and not letting his employers pressure him into not sticking to his moral compass. Instead, he turned the attention on ‘supporters’. We would then learn the true scale of abuse he was suffering daily, in the stands, when driving home, online, etc. These included wishes that his wife died and that his baby daughter got cancer!

Bearing in mind, he wasn’t the only member of huis dressing room talking about how ‘fans’ abuse was impacting his mental health.

For an institution that has always prided itself on doing things the right way and acting with class, it was an embarrassment for Arsenal to see such a breakdown between players and their fans.

In his final months in North London, Mr Wenger had warned that the club were in danger of losing the principles he had worked so hard to create ……. he had been proven correct.

Some to this day will maintain that this was deflection on behalf of the player, but it did make a fan base discuss the topic of what is supporting? and where is that line?

Like most things, we educate ourselves through conversation and fans were now having one. Is it a coincidence that soon after this, chants of ‘AFTV Get Out Of Our Club‘ were audible at away games?

The Youtube Channel had become famous for essentially who could shout the loudest and say the most swear words.

It was Arteta who refused to sign off on Xhaka rejoinng the Bundesliga. One of the first things the rookie boss did was ask Xhaka to give him till the summer to change his mind.

This was Arsenal’s third full time manager who saw the CM as crucial to his first 11, indicating that maybe spectators didn’t appreciate tactically how important Xhaka was to the team.

The Spaniard was able to utterly transition the villain back into the squad with attention on the new regime.

His display in the FA Cup Final made his detractors (while not forgive) but at least forget. In many ways, Xhaka’s campaign mirrored the teams …. he had made something beautiful out of an ugly situation.

Last campaign, red cards at the Etihad and Anfield left many to question would he ever learn, and after so many seasons had he been given too many chances?

An interview he took part in again divided opinion. To some, there was a lack of accountability for his mistakes. Others felt the piece painted him in a good light, he cared, and if nothing else was a fighter. This was none the more apparent than when we threw away Champions League qualification in May after consecutive defeats at Spurs and Newcastle.

He said what every fan wanted to hear, that the two performances had been unacceptable, that we had bottled it …. he didn’t offer excuses or talk about what if’s. In that one moment it was clear that, while not official, he was still our main leader in that dressing room. He knew the standards the badge demanded, and it was his responsibility to tell his peers they had fallen short.

With some calling 5th progress, how refreshing to hear at least someone in the squad wasn’t accepting such failure.

That was showcased in Amazon’s All Or Nothing Series where you could argue Xhaka came across better than any of his peers. In a group that have had their mentality questioned, Xhaka was always the most vocal.

Arteta had a fantastic first press conference as a manager. Great soundbites and what people wanted to hear. Yet did the Spaniard mean what he was saying or was its PR talk?

He stressed that he wanted to bring the players and squad together as he acknowledged it had drifted in his years away.

He wanted those sitting at the Emirates to like what they were watching, but be proud of their players again.

You can’t deny our boss has done that. By bringing in British kids from the academy Arsenal have a core group that fans can relate too. By bringing in youth, fans realise that sometimes they need to be the 12th man, that it would be counterproductive to complain if it’s 0-0 after an hour.

It’s created an atmosphere at our stadium that consistently I never thought I would hear again.

Then there’s a change in the player’s role. Still in the middle, but less responsibility to sit, a licence to be creative and join in attacks.

All of this has led to Xhaka being embraced.

Some won’t forget …I’m sure he will never forget what his family went through.

Yet like all families, sometimes you can argue and move on. You never forget but forgive.

In an era where Arsenal’s mental strength is questioned, Xhaka is the exceptions. In his own way, he’s mentally strong and resilient

He stood by his convictions without the backing of those who paid his wages.

He told his truth knowing some would discredit him.

He is our leader after all.

Dan Smith

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14 Comments

  1. He’s played very deep role for years. Not only with Arteta but with Emery and Wenger too.

    The Xhaka I see this season is totally different than what we’ve seen before. He’s never ventured so deep into the opposition box and he seems to thrive there.

  2. Well well well I’ll be double dogged damn. An article singing Xhaka’s praise and acknowledging his abilities.
    It feels good to read something good and positive about him for once, and not the terrible player people always pointed him out to be.
    I remember people would come at me asking why do I always defend this player or what is it that we keep pretending is special about him.
    Oh Xhaka moving up is not the reason he’s a changed player, Xhaka moving up is the reason we’re seeing his abilities better more.
    I’ve defended him so many times, making it clear how he’s a deep lying playmaker, and their primary job is just to control the tempo of the game, make sure we keep the ball, and be an outlet for the defenders while also protecting them.
    He’s always done all of that effectively, and our fans used to call him sideways passer.
    Well guess what all DLPs have I’m common? Passing, sideways, forward, or backwards because that’s how the team keeps the ball. He’s always been a smart player who knows where to stay to receive the ball from the defenders, only difference is now he’s doing it on the other side of the pitch. That intelligence has always been there.
    Wenger, Emery, Freddie and Arteta all knew about his intelligence, but most fans chose not to see it because he has a downside to his game.
    He’s a hothead, gets too rash in his tackles and caused us some games that way, but what can you do about that when ever Wenger himself came out and said XHAKA DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO TACKLE?!
    This is why Partey’s also seen as the perfect partner for him.
    Xhaka’s allowed to just focus on his game now and leaves the tackling to Partey.
    You can see his intelligence is always there still, even though he’s an 8 now, he’s always everywhere making himself available for a pass and to make sure we keep the ball.
    Happy for him, happy for his family, happy for the manager for not going against his belief in the man.

    Now for fans who might still be angry he never apologized, suck it up, he’ll never apologize and I hope he never apologizes for defending himself, and being human. Most of us would’ve even reacted way worse than he did, but because these guys are superstars, always under the camera, we’ve deluded ourselves into thinking they have no right to react just as any human would.
    Bunch of kids.
    Long may the togetherness and growth around the club last

  3. Incredible to see how Xhaka and Arteta work together to lead the team. As I said before, Xhaka is the unofficial captain

    However, I’d still like to know about his booking or card betting investigation result. Hopefully no Gunner is found guilty this season, otherwise our season could end as Everton’s did in 2021

    1. Whilst the incident is being investigated, he is not under suspicion and is not part of the investigation by the National Crime Agency.
      Please stop looking for negatives, or are you going to ask about Partey next?

  4. Xhaka has had 4 years of dismal failure and controversy, often brought on by himself. His brainless decisions are things of legend and would have got him an effigy over a statue. BUT (and i still have doubts over his abilities) his start to the season has been brilliant. He needs to carry on what he has started and u do still think an upgrade on him is needed. But we cant fault his start, he is chipping in and having an effect in a positive way, keep it up.

    1. Yeah, I know if Xhaka was an English boy, he would have praised to the moon and prised to Man Utd for 200quid. We all know the media is explicitly anti-Arsenal while young football fans will pick up these trends and become the most insufferable brats in sports. I have no idea how Arsenal became the banter club; is it because of Arsene Wenger? Or the young players? Or the foreign legends? Or is it because clubs like Liverpool, Tottenham, Newcastle, Everton, Man Utd and Man City jealous of Arsenal successful business and management model?

  5. I used to be the number one person who wanted to see Xhaka leave our club. But now

    The Rebirth of Xhaka is ecstatic for me.

    The euphoria he gave me when he scored the 3rd goal against the Spurs was very high for me.
    I was buzzing.
    And long may it continue.

    I believe Arteta had to carry out some deep thinking to figure out how Xhaka can use the beast potential they all see in him in training.

    Finally, Arteta figured out he was supposed to be used further up the pitch.

    My respect and admiration for Arteta has just increased because of how he has helped Xhaka to improve.

    Both Arteta and Xhaka are still a work in progress. Hopefully, they would cut out their mistakes as low as possible.

  6. I always see somthing different of Xhaka, as a person who works with a lot of different type of people, there was always a massive trait from Xhaka that goes unnoticed.

    He is one of the most complete team player you will ever find, people normally trust these kinds of people, they are easy to understand,
    Happy for the lad and long will his good performances continues

  7. As a Goonr who has been consistently wuswhing Xhaka GONE from our club and who has been vigorous in saying this, I must now acknowledge that THIS seson he has been a revelation . So, I ask myself was I wrong all that timeOR has something changed fundamentally from thr previous six seasons/ And thre obvious answe , at leazst to my mind, is that he has FINALLY been moved away from aposition which never suite dhim and in which he was a constant liability, red cards penalties etc.
    SOME Gooners have said, to be fair to them , that three of our managers all played him and that is true.

    So WHY is it only NOW that our latest of those three managers has had the sense to move him upfield , where to be fair, he is a revelation? It took AW almost three years not to see that solution; UE 18 momths not to see it and even MA over two years before seeing it.

    CAN ANYONE EXPLAIN WHY SO LONG? SERIOUS QUESTION!

  8. He was getting red cards because overall team was weak. During the season there will be red cards.That is going to happen if team plays aggressive. Even Patric V got cards but then team had belief and strength to carry on and win. So Xhaka can not be blamed alone for all the red cards he has received and few times it was poor referees if not biased.

  9. For me he’s been good this season ,nothing more but that’s because he’s got less responsibility,he’s still the same player that as let us down time after time ,this whole talk about him being a scape goat is a myth ,plenty of players over his time here have had far worse ,won’t mention names as it’s easy to go back .
    Yes he’s now playing well in a very good team ,but would a different player in his position make us even better than what we are seeing now .

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