Granit Xhaka possesses character in abundance. The Swiss midfielder has lived it all during his five years at Arsenal, including trophy-winning highs, supporter booing lows and social media abuse which he has articulated so well in a press conference before the Gunners’ Europa League match against Benfica.
Xhaka was Borussia Monchengladbach’s youngest ever captain at the age of 22. He is currently the captain of Switzerland and is the son of an Albanian immigrant whose father father Ragip was imprisoned and beaten in the former Yugoslavia for campaigning in favour of Kosovan independence.
That elite mentality is what makes Xhaka the player he is today. In an interview with the Guardian in 2016, Xhaka’s wife Leonita revealed that it is impossible to speak to the midfielder for an hour after the full-time whistle if Arsenal lose. The player himself has taken on the mantle of a leader at Emirates Stadium from the moment he joined, but he is now one of the most senior players at the club.
“Sometimes, it’s difficult for me to come down,” Xhaka said. “I focus a lot of our defeats on myself. What did I do wrong? I never criticise my team-mates before I’ve looked at myself. I’ve been that way since I was a kid. Do I put too much pressure on myself? Definitely. And it’s getting worse as I get older. When I was younger, I never put as much thought into a defeat as I do now.”
There have been the infamous moments with the Arsenal supporters. For most players reacting angrily to your own fans would be enough to end your time at the club – but not Xhaka. He has bounced back time after time and found himself at the heart of the midfielder under Arsene Wenger, Unai Emery, caretaker boss Freddie Ljungberg and current manager Mikel Arteta.
“It’s not just the Burnley game [that he got abused for],” reflected Arteta. “He’s had two big episodes, you know. You can maybe overcome one of those, I think the second time he really showed that he doesn’t want to go through that again.
“We’re here to try and support our players, the club was exceptional giving him all the support. We try to do the same, the teammates did the same. He’s gone through it again. He’s getting a lot of praise for the way he’s playing. It’s down to his character and how much he wants to succeed at the club.”
“He’s a really important player for us since I’ve been here. He’s played almost every game and there’s no better way to show how much you like and value a player than by giving him minutes on the pitch.”
Xhaka rarely grants interviews but when he does speak to the press he doesn’t hold back. He is an intelligent man who has settled down with his family over the past couple of years, whilst at the same time receiving abuse on social media after almost every Arsenal defeat.
He touched on it in his press conference ahead of the Benfica game and insisted that the abusers are “not supporters of my club”.
“If I showed the 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. Secondly, I have a lot of help from the club because this is something we have to speak very openly about.”
Arsenal outlined their commitment to combating social media abuse in a statement given to football.london .
“As a club, we are committing to using our voice and network to strengthen measures and action taken by relevant authorities to punish those responsible for this abuse which affects us all. Where any individual is found to have an Arsenal membership, they will be banned. We are working with the authorities to report abuse to the police. We cannot and will not let hateful abuse become a normalised part of the game.
“We all need to work together to drive this behaviour out. This includes clubs, governing bodies, fans, media and politicians; but requires the help and commitment of social media companies.
“We cannot underestimate the impact abuse has on individuals and the recent spate of abuse needs to be a wake-up call. We provide support to our players which includes sports psychologists, social media and legal teams.
“We will continue to celebrate our diversity and use our platforms to educate others and continue our zero-tolerance approach to discrimination.”
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Xhaka’s current contract expires in June 2023 and with the manager and player both happy with his contribution, it appears that his time in north London won’t be coming to an end anytime soon.
Until then he will continue to showcase the resilient characteristics we’ve come to know of the midfielder over the past few years as he looks to deliver European football to the Gunners next season.