Granit Xhaka: From Zero to Hero (025)

Granit Xhaka is one of the very few players still left from the Wenger era, as he opted for Xhaka over N’Golo Kanté. It is fair to say that Xhaka has faced his fair share of trials and tribulations over a tumultuous 6 years at Arsenal. From captain, to hated by the fans, and now back to vice captain and a firm favourite for fans and players alike, especially the younger players who so often look to him for guidance. He is known by the Gunners for his fragile temper, tendency to pick up red cards, and his absolute stunning cameos of goals which he has been scoring season in, season out, since the 2016/17 campaign. Granit Xhaka has really come into himself under our current manager, and this looks to be an exciting season ahead for the Swiss international.

Wenger signed Xhaka from Borussia Mönchengladbach for a fee in the region of £30 million, and made his first appearance as a first half substitute in a 2 – 1 victory over MLS All-Stars, whilst his competitive debut came in the first game of the 17/18 season against Liverpool, where he came on for Elneny in the 65th minute in a 4-3 defeat. His first goal for the Gunners was a 25-yard super strike in a convincing 4-1 PL win over Hull City in September 2016, and most notably his first red card came soon after in a 3-2 victory against Swansea City in October 2016. 

Unai Emery announced that the number 34 would be replacing Laurent Koscielny as captain on 27th September 2019, a decision which proved to be controversial due to Xhaka’s unsportsmanlike behaviour which followed, including telling fans to ‘f**k off’ as he was substituted off in the 61st minute as he was booed walking off the pitch. Emery insisted that Arsenal didn’t condone his actions, but it was only a month and a week after he was given the captaincy which he was stripped off, instead Aubameyang took over as he had been serving as vice captain, and we all know how that ended. 

Following this behaviour, Xhaka was dropped from the starting XI and looked set for a departure in the upcoming transfer window, until Arteta took over and began to reintegrate him into the first team and highlighting him as a key player. Over time, Xhaka has started to win the fans back over, and has even credited Mikel Arteta saying ‘He [Arteta] turned me around and gave me a second chance and he showed me he trusted me and I tried to give him everything back.’ Xhaka has also admitted that without Arteta, he would not have remained at Arsenal.  

Fast forward to today, and Xhaka is now one of the few players left from the iconic Wenger era, he serves as vice captain underneath Martin Ødegaard, and he is undoubtedly a fan favourite. He has recently done an interview in which he describes how pleased he is that the fans have finally come up with a song for him, and he is a clear role model for the academy players coming through the ranks. After six eventful years at Arsenal, this was the season many felt the Swiss international would finally be eased out of the starting XI, especially with the change of system introduced by Mikel Arteta which saw Xhaka asked to play in a far more advanced midfield role than usual. Instead, the opposite has happened; once upon a time, he was viewed as a calamity waiting to happen, now he is undroppable and plays a vital role in every game we play. With Arsenal, he has won four trophies; two FA cups and two Community Shields. Arteta has definitely upgraded him as a player this season, as he plays a lot higher up the pitch, but is equally effective at defending, where he is putting many crosses into the box and creating the vital chances that Arsenal lacked last season. That said, he has formed a particularly brilliant partnership with Gabriel Jesus, who said “I’m so happy to play with him. He’s intelligent and a quality player as well.” following the 3-0 victory over Brentford earlier this season. He is clearly thriving under Arteta, as he can already boast two goals and three assists this season. Luckily for us all, Xhaka signed a contract extension at the beginning of this season, until summer 2024, with the option of an extension. While it is clear that Arsenal’s ‘captain’s curse’ did strike with Xhaka to some extent, he has redeemed himself in the fans’ eyes, and that is all that matters.

Written by: Abby Goodson @_abbygoodson

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