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'They are not supporters' - Arsenal star Xhaka wants to meet online abusers 'eye to eye'

11:22 GMT 24/02/2021
Granit Xhaka Arsenal 2020-21
The Gunners midfielder has hit out at the abuse he and his family have received on social media and has called for change

Granit Xhaka does not view Arsenal fans who send him online abuse as genuine supporters and says he would love to sit down with them ‘eye to eye’ and ask them why they write what they do.

The Switzerland international has had a checkered relationship with supporters since his move to north London in 2016 and it spilled over last year when he was jeered off the pitch having been substituted by former boss Unai Emery.

Xhaka reacted badly to the jeers and gestured angrily at the fans, telling them to ‘f*ck off’ . He was subsequently stripped of the captaincy by Emery due to his reaction and looked certain to leave the club.

He was convinced to stay by Mikel Arteta, however, after he replaced Emery last year and has become an integral part of the Spaniard’s plans in the heart of the midfield.

But he still gets targeted by abuse online and, ahead of Thursday night’s Europa League tie against Benfica , Xhaka opened up on exactly how it makes him feel - especially when online social media accounts target his family, as well as him.

What did Xhaka say?

When asked about the online abuse he has received, Xhaka said: “If I showed others what they write, I think I have to close my social media, everyone has to close social media.

“I say that before and I will say that now and in the future as well, it is only about me. I am the guy who is on the pitch. It is not my wife, it is not my little one, it is not my family.

“So if you want to criticise someone, no problem to criticise me like a person, like a player. But don’t make the other people involved because they have nothing to do with my job.

“They are not supporters of my club. I do not see them as supporters of my club – to support the club they have to be here if we lose, we draw or we win.

“Of course, you can criticise and say what you want about football – but not about the person, not about the family. I think this is two pairs of shoes, about the footballer and the person.

“But if one guy is a ticket holder at the club and speaks like this about his own players I don't think he needs respect from our side or other people.”

What more has Xhaka said?

Xhaka says the issue of online abuse is always exasperated by a defeat.

And the Gunners midfielder admits he would like nothing more than to get the opportunity to sit down in person with those targeting him and his family to ask them why they feel the need to be so hateful.

“The problem is only if you lose, then it is a problem,” he said. “It is not a problem when you win. If you lose, everyone hates you, everyone is writing you things like…it is not possible to understand how they can write something like this you know.

“I wish I could meet the people who write me these things, sit with them eye to eye and to ask them, why are you writing things like this?

“Not only for me personally, because it happens a lot in the last few weeks, but only to know what he is feeling in this moment when he writes things like this.

“This is not acceptable. So you have to open our eyes and to look after this a lot, because I think you kill football like this if the people start to speak about a player or their families or things like this.”

Support from Arsenal

While discussing the problem of online abuse, Xhaka was quick to praise the support he has received from Arsenal over the issue.

“I have a lot of help from the club because this is something we have to speak very openly about,” he said. “You don’t have to be quiet and say: ‘Yeah, I keep it with me’, because it is not always easy.

“But the club was here for me, for my family. They helped me, I was very open with the guys here and if you have people around you, who help you, it is very, very important.”

Happy to be playing without fans?

Despite some of the issues he has faced with the Arsenal fans during the past two seasons, Xhaka is adamant that he wants them back inside stadiums as soon as possible.

“I’m not a guy who is scared or afraid to play in front of our fans – never, ever,” he said.

“I love the club and I respect the people around the team as well. I wish we could play with the fans because they would push us more and more and more.

“But the situation is what it is and hopefully things will change as quickly as possible to have the fans back and work together, to see we are improving and we want to take the next step as a club – this is what I wish.”

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