Granit Xhaka has revived his Arsenal career in push for top-four

Granit Xhaka has gone from having a row with fans to blowing them kisses after his wondergoal against Manchester United… he has revived his Arsenal career and could win over supporters if he can help the Gunners back into the Champions League

  • Granit Xhaka’s relationship with Arsenal fans has always appeared to be uneasy 
  • His Gunners career looked over following his angry reaction to fans in 2019 
  • Xhaka has come close to leaving but has remained a key player for Mikel Arteta 
  • He is playing a key role as Arsenal look to qualify for the Champions League
  • His thunderbolt against Manchester United could prove to be a pivotal moment 

If anyone said in October 2019 that Granit Xhaka would still be an Arsenal player 30 months later, then no-one, not even the Swiss midfielder himself, would have believed it.

His relationship with fans seemed to be fractured beyond repair, he had been stripped of the captain’s armband and both the player and the club wanted a split.

On Saturday, Xhaka was blowing kisses to the Arsenal supporters, as they celebrated his thunderbolt finish against Manchester United – a moment that felt worlds away from the anger on display more than two years prior. 

Granit Xhaka looked as though his Arsenal career was going to end in disarray after his row with the club’s supporters in a 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace back in October 2019

Over two years later, he is a key player for the Gunners in their pursuit of a top-four finish

His thunderbolt from outside the box could be a decisive moment for Arsenal this season

Xhaka blew kisses to the Arsenal crowd – a marked turnaround from his fury back in 2019

Ever since joining the club, he appeared to be a source of frustration for Gunners supporters. They were no longer a team qualifying for Europe’s elite competition and by the autumn of 2019, frustrations were at their highest over the club’s inconsistent Premier League form.

Xhaka, as captain, often took the brunt of the blame whether his performances were to blame or not.  

On October 27, 2019, Arsenal had threw away a two-goal lead as they were held to a 2-2 draw at the Emirates by Crystal Palace – a result that had left them 12 points behind eventual champions Liverpool – just ten games into the season.  

As the No 34 went up on the electronic board after 61 minutes, loud cheers were heard around the stadium as then manager Unai Emery decided to hook Xhaka off in place of Bukayo Saka.  

Xhaka, was furious with the response as he was then booed and jeered as he leisurely strolled off the pitch with the Gunners chasing a victory.

Xhaka reacted furiously after he received jeers from fans when he was replaced by Bukayo Saka in the 61st minute of Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace in the 2019-20 season

He looked set to leave in January 2020 and last summer when Mourinho’s Roma were keen

He threw his armband on to the floor for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to pick up, waved, cupped his ears and appeared to mouth ‘f*** off’ to the supporters. After rejecting a handshake from Emery, he took his shirt off and stormed straight down the tunnel. 

‘My bags were packed. The passports were out. I was done with Arsenal. Finished,’ Xhaka said.

‘There was a contract on the table from another club, and all I had to do was sign. I had talked with my wife, Leonita, and we had decided to leave.’

That was two months after the incident in December 2019, according to the player himself as he told the Players’ Tribune.

He had been stripped of the captain’s armband and taken out of the squad ahead of a potential move in the January transfer window.

However, under the tenure of Mikel Arteta, he was reintroduced to the team and would start that season’s FA Cup final, winning his third piece of silverware since joining the club from Borussia Monchengladbach for just over £7million.

Despite his critics, Xhaka has always been someone that Mikel Arteta has looked to

Though he has stayed on and been a regular presence in the team under the Spaniard, at times he has remained a source of frustration with supporters.

As one of the club’s most senior figures, his lack of discipline and hotheaded moments has remained an all too common occurrence. Not only has he been sent off five times in his Arsenal career, he’s also received a staggering 50 yellow cards in the Premier League.

His relationship has been a tough one to repair with the 29-year-old admitting that he and Arsenal fans will ‘never be best friends,’ even if he hopes they can ‘treat each other with honesty and respect’.

He was again on the verge of leaving the club last summer, with Jose Mourinho’s Roma strongly pursuing a move. If it wasn’t for the Italian side needing to prioritise a new left-back following the serious injury to Leonardo Spinazzola at Euro 2020, he might have been playing Serie A football this season.  

Despite the close call, the fact that his move failed to go through has been a blessing for the Gunners this season.

Often known as a player for doing the dirty work rather than putting his name in the lights, his wonder strike against Manchester United on Saturday could be one of his biggest moments in an Arsenal shirt.

He provided a number of important defensive contributions in the victory over Chelsea

Arsenal were feeling the heat as Manchester United piled the pressure on the Gunners creaking back-line in search of an equaliser.

Against the run of play, Xhaka’s cracker from 25 yards out ultimately sealed the victory, in what could be a defining game in their top-four pursuit.

Although it is his only goal of the season, he has played a key part in Arsenal’s push to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in six years. 

It wasn’t the best start to the season a red card in the 5-0 loss to Manchester City meant he missed games against Norwich and Burnley. He then missed eight games with an MCL injury before making his comeback in the 2-1 defeat to Brighton in December.

Since then though he has started every game, bar one, and has shown what he can bring to the team when he is on his game.

At a time of the season where Arteta’s thin squad is being tested to its limits, with players injured, fighting through the pain barrier and being brought in from the cold – the ever constant in the team has been Xhaka.

Manchester United were piling pressure on Arsenal before Xhaka’s brilliant long-range strike

Whether it’s been filling in at left-back, playing as an advanced number eight and no matter who he plays alongside in the centre of the park, Xhaka has been a reliable asset that Arteta can rely on in the second half of the season. 

Last week in particular was one of Xhaka’s best in an Arsenal shirt. He made some vital defensive contributions in Arsenal’s 4-2 win over Chelsea last week. 

He made two interceptions, two clearances and won two ground duels. He also managed two dribbles, one of which led to the second goal.

Following his emphatic finish and celebration against Manchester United, there looked like a mutual sign of respect that Xhaka had been hoping for.  

Though he no longer wears the captain’s armband, his leadership and influence on Arteta’s Arsenal is clear, and fans are starting to come around to the Spaniard’s belief of how important he can be to the Gunners. 

If he can carry on his form until the end of the campaign, stay away from the hot-headed moments that can be detrimental to his game and earn Arsenal a top-four finish, then supporters’ appreciation for the midfielder will be at the highest they’ve ever been.

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