Granit Xhaka feared he had played his last game for Arsenal after falling out with the club’s fans in October and being stripped of the club captaincy, but feels proud of the resolve he has shown in restoring his reputation since then.
The path back for Xhaka seemed narrow when, during the 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace on 27 October, he gestured towards the Emirates Stadium support and swore after his substitution was cheered. He explained afterwards that he had reached “boiling point” after receiving threats online, and was minded to leave the club in January before Mikel Arteta talked him round.
Since then he has become a vital cog in a team who have gone 10 games unbeaten in all competitions, and there has been no sign of lingering bad blood between player and public.
“Of course, I don’t lie. There was a moment [when I thought I wouldn’t play for Arsenal again], because it was not easy for me and my family. I hope people understand this,” he told the Evening Standard.
“But I think I showed my character. I am not a guy who runs away. I always say to the club: ‘When I [am] here, I am ready to give everything.’ It was like this always. I train very hard and that things turned around is the key. This [has given me] the most happiness.”
Xhaka had been named club captain a month before the Palace match by Unai Emery, the club’s previous head coach, after a lengthy process that arguably exacerbated the situation that followed. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has succeeded him and, although he briefly wore the armband again towards the end of the rematch with Palace at Selhurst Park last month, Xhaka would probably stop short of accepting any offer to reassume the role.
“I know with or without the armband what I can give the team,” he said. “But in this moment [against Palace] I don’t want to take the armband back, but Sokratis [Papastathopoulos] and David [Luiz] told me I have to take it. If one day the club asks me about the armband, I have to think twice.”
He described the events of last autumn, which led to him spending a month out of the side, as “not about a player … more about a human” and suggested the distance between players and supporters in the Premier League does not help the relationship – contrasting it with the dialogue that can be opened in Germany, where he previously played with Borussia Mönchengladbach.
“On one side I understand the fans, because they always want the players to perform, but on the other side they have to understand us as well. It is not always easy. I think this is the biggest difference [between] Germany and England, because [here] we don’t have the [close] connection with the fans. In Germany, for example, you have open training sessions, the fans come and [talk to you], ask you why.
“Here, everything is closed. So, for me, it would be good this time to explain to the people what is not going good or bad. But it doesn’t matter now. Now we have to enjoy, that’s the most important.”