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'We've got Granit Xhaka!' - How Arsenal ace rebuilt his relationship with Gunners fans

12:20 GMT+4 01/10/2022
Granit Xhaka Arsenal HIC 16:9
The Swiss midfielder told Arsenal fans to 'f*ck off' in October 2019 - now they're singing his name again thanks to Mikel Arteta.

If there was ever an indicator of just how well things are going at table-topping Arsenal right now, it came at the end of last month's 3-0 win at Brentford.

The full-time whistle had just gone and the players were all heading over to the travelling fans at the Gtech Community Stadium to celebrate a sixth win in seven Premier League games.

And that’s when it happened.

“We’ve got Granit Xhaka, we’ve got Granit Xhaka. We’ve got Granit Xhaka, we’ve got Granit Xhaka...”

That was the song that was bellowing out of the joyous away end as Mikel Arteta’s squad stood in front of the Arsenal fans, waving, clapping and expressing their gratitude for all the support.

For Xhaka, it was a huge moment.

“It’s a very, very special day for me,” he admitted afterwards in an emotional message which he sent out via Arsenal’s Twitter account. 

“To hear what happened, [for you] to sing the song for me. Thank you.”

For most players, getting serenaded by your own fans would be nothing new. In fact, it would be par for the course.

But in terms of his relationship with the Arsenal supporters, Xhaka is no ordinary player.

Indeed, the fact that he is now receiving their acclaim speaks volumes for the quality of the performances he has been putting in this season.

After six eventful years at Arsenal, this was the season many felt the Switzerland 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, he has cemented his place in the team with a series of superb displays. A player previously viewed as calamity waiting to happen is now un-droppable.

He was magnificent against Brentford at both ends of the pitch, forming a near impenetrable barrier in front of the back four alongside Thomas Partey, while also playing a starring role in the final third.

Xhaka’s assist for Gabriel Jesus' goal – a gorgeous ball in for the Brazil striker to head home – was his third in the Premier League this season. Only Bukayo Saka (four) has more.

“All the time, he’s trying to find me,” Jesus said after the game. “It was a great ball, a great cross. 

“I’m so happy to play with him. He’s intelligent and a quality player as well.”

Xhaka's stats this season show how much he is enjoying the new freedom he has within the team.

He has a goal and three assists to his name in just seven games. He has also created 14 chances and has had 25 touches in the box – that’s only 12 fewer than he had during the entire 2021-22 campaign.

But it’s not just going forward where he has excelled. Defensively, he has been very strong.

Nobody in the Arsenal squad has made more interceptions than Xhaka, while he has also won possession 33 times in seven games – only two players have recovered the ball more.

And there has also been no sign – for now anyway – of the sudden lapses in concentration that have plagued Xhaka throughout his Arsenal career.

So, what does Arteta put this new level of performance down to?

“His consistency,” the Arsenal manager said just before the international break.

“How he goes about every day, how he’s learned through different moments in his career – whether they are here or with the national team – and his willingness over time to stay humble, to look forward and to try to get better.

“When you do that, normally good things happen.”

Arteta added: “I think he feels now that the love and respect goes both ways. You see our supporters and the way they were singing to him. It makes him emotional. 

“It makes him try to give even more and I’m really pleased for him because, in my opinion, he fully deserves it.”

Had it not been for Arteta, Xhaka would have left Arsenal a long time ago.

The midfielder has openly admitted he had "his bags packed" and was ready to return to Germany following the X-rated spat he had with the Arsenal fans during a game with Crystal Palace in October 2019.

Xhaka was captain at the time and had the armband taken off him by former boss Unai Emery following the incident, which saw Xhaka angrily tell Arsenal supporters to ‘f*ck off’ as they jeered him off the pitch as he was being substituted.

There seemed to be no way back and there wouldn’t have been had Emery remained at the club. But Arteta arrived soon after and convinced Xhaka to stay. 

That was nearly three years ago and the route to forgiveness with the fanbase has not been an easy one. But Xhaka is not a player who will ever shy away from a challenge. 

There have been bumps along the road, including two red cards last season, but the midfielder is as respected now as he has ever been in North London ahead of Saturday's derby against Tottenham.

Indeed, Arsenal fans will be singing Xhaka's name again at the Emirates – something that would have been impossible to imagine just a short time ago.

But if the midfielder’s time in England has taught us anything, it’s that you can never, ever write him off.