Xhaka on song removes controversy to become symbol of Arsenal’s progress | Arsenal

a Two months ago, Granit Xhaka was preparing to warm up at Vitality Stadium before Arsenal’s game against Bournemouth when he noticed traveling fans were singing Oleksandr Zinchenko, one of the club’s summer signings. (“Zin-chen-ko! Always believe in your soul”). Xhaka drifted off to his new teammate. Alex said. “I’ve been here for six years and I don’t have a song. I’ve been here for three weeks.”

And somehow you know just how Xhaka would have said it too: With this uniquely Xhaka-esque blend of nomadism, mischief, insecurity and defiance, the loose suspension that actually comes from the most gentle of places. Every player knows his songs. Every player knows when he doesn’t have one. And while some guys don’t care, Xhaka has never been very good at hiding how much he cares about things.

Take his extraordinary revolution yet 2-0 defeat at St James’ Park At the end of last season: a scathing reprimand to his teammates delivered not in the intimacy of the dressing room or in an all-region documentary, but on live TV, right under the camera. “If someone isn’t ready for this game, stay home,” he spat in disgust. “If you are nervous, stay on the bench, don’t come here. We need people to have the balls to come here and play.”

During most of his Arsenal career, Xhaka’s no-filter style has earned him as many opponents as fans. Passion was never the problem. Instead of lack of self-control, red cards, simple mistakes, When he told the fans to “get away” After being substituted against Crystal Palace. When Arsenal stumbled on the pitch, Xhaka somehow came to embody everything that was holding them back: all mouth and no passes, the thermostat permanently set to ‘heat wave’.

Like raucous lovers, Xhaka and fans’ relationship for years had seemed doomed. Mutual attraction was present, but also intense and often personal mutual irritation. So how did we get here, with Xhaka close to 200 Premier League games, enjoying the most prolific scoring season of his career and finally – finally – with his own song?

The moment he heard the new tune (“We’ve got…Granit Xhaka,” to Glad All Over,” Xhaka said of the moment he heard the new tune: “It felt so amazing and so amazing.”

It has become fashionable to speak of Shaka’s renaissance as an “arc of redemption”, as if there was a certain inevitability to it. Indeed, this is the kind of path that rarely happens in modern football, where nerves are short, judgments are early, and the job market is more fluid than ever.

Granite Shaka mural near Emirates Stadium
Xhaka’s transformation is a reminder of how far Arsenal have come since the troubled times. Photo: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Once you’ve disagreed with fans, it generally works for you. Perhaps there is a comparison with Joelinton at Newcastle or Moussa Sissoko at Tottenham. But these were more direct examples of transactions showing that a useless player is no longer useless.

In contrast, Xhaka’s hatred seems to come from a different place and later feels strange, uncomfortable and unequal. Why, when Xhaka was hardly the only under-performing player at Arsenal, when he embodied so many of the qualities Arsenal lacked in Wenger’s later years – drive, aggression, character, ability to stay fit in an injury crisis – did he? Become such thunderbolts for contempt, criticism and even death threats?

Perhaps it was on one level because Xhaka and Arsenal fans had more in common than they were interested to admit. Above all, they shared anger and loathing for the club’s plight, as well as their conviction that only they could fix it. As Arsenal fans shrieked in the void, Xhaka grappled with the sporting equivalent: hovering over sparring, snarling and whining, trying to be everywhere at once. Somehow they held a mirror cracked in front of each other, a self-fueling cycle of random, pointless aggression that ultimately achieved very little.

Because, as it turned out, neither Xhaka nor the fans can fix Arsenal themselves. When Mikel Arteta arrived in late 2019, the Xhaka bags were already packed. He was stripped of the captaincy, Hertha Berlin was interested and ready to go. But Arteta had a plan. A more specific role in a more organized system. A system that everyone knows their jobs and standards are non-negotiable.

Not that things went quite smoothly. There were unnecessary red cards against Liverpool And the Manchester City last seasonagainst Burnley in the previous season. Once again, Xhaka almost left the club in the summer of 2021, and had he done so he wouldn’t be too sad. It’s only in recent months that Xhaka has begun to change opinions, a development linked less to his form – which he has been doing well for two years – than his association with Arsenal as a team.

Arsenal's Granit Xhaka beats Liverpool's Diogo Jota and gets a red card
Xhaka’s no-filter approach has won as many opponents as fans. Photo: John Powell/Liverpool/Getty Images

As with Xhaka-hate, Xhaka-love comes from a very different place than the simple devotion given, for example, to Bukayo Saka or William Saliba. While Xhaka once reminded Arsenal of bad times, now he is reminding them of how far they have come since bad times. In a way, he is a living symbol of the club’s journey, and one of the last remaining links between the age of Arsenal banter and the age of ballet.

Perhaps his closest resemblance to one of his opponents on Sunday. For years, and for reasons as many as Xhaka, Liverpool fans struggled to keep warm with Jordan Henderson, who on some level seemed to reflect the club’s broader flaws on them. Arrived at a great price. It was often described as brittle, plain, or inconsistent. It took several management cycles to define his role. Like Xhaka, he ultimately thrived not as a one-man outlet or whirlwind in the midfield, but as a simple link in a complex and functional system, and an indispensable voice in the dressing room.

The easiest word to say in football is goodbye. Sell, sack, unfollow, ban: This is an entire industry geared toward conflict and dissent, disposal and renewal. Ironically, it likely isn’t that many miles into Xhaka’s story. He just turned 30 and in a couple of seasons you can see him slowly paving the way for a younger supermodel: Fabio Vieira, or perhaps a new signing. But it now represents the power of second chances: the idea that what’s broken can always be fixed.

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