On Tuesday evening, before the frankly obscene fixture that was Chelsea vs Ajax, Unai Emery held a press conference ahead of Arsenal’s Europa League tie. In this interview, he revealed that Granit Xhaka was going to be stripped of the captaincy, claiming that ‘I decided he’s not one of the captains in our group’, instead handing the captaincy to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
This situation feels like it is incredibly unfair on the Swiss International. Ever since his arrival at the Emirates, his faults have been criticised far more than his strengths have been praised. I do not think Granit Xhaka is a bad player. I do, however, think that he is woefully unsuited to the sole no.6 position which he has been played. Next to Lucas Torreira, his flaws were less exposed. Without the Uruguayan however, Arsenal fans have re-discovered his problems, and the hatred of him has returned to the fore.
Nor has the hatred been confined to his on the pitch performances- A simple social media check will demonstrate that the 27-year-old deemed it necessary to disable comments on many of his posts. Having just had a child, Xhaka was faced with death wishes in the comments of his announcement post. The matter came to a head when he was substituted against Crystal Palace, being booed off by his own “fans”.
The events that followed were of course unacceptable, yet in my book they were equally understandable. There were children, who look up to players such as Xhaka, watching the ugly affair, and they should never have to see such obscenities. In isolation, it was a terrible reaction from Arsenal’s ex-captain. In context however, it becomes clear that it was a reaction from someone who is only human and has suffered continued abuse irrespective of his performance levels. As I said, understandable.
In light of this then, the decision to strip him of the captaincy sets a terrible, and quite frankly scary, precedent. It demonstrates that the fans have far too much power in this situation, as their consistent abuse across all walks of Granit’s life is what ultimately led to this debacle. The club would have been much better off showing solidarity with their club captain (who, we are led to believe, was selected by the players). Condemning the abuse which he received would have been a far stronger plan of action, as through their decision they have effectively legitimised abuse as a way for the fans to have a say on proceedings. In Xhaka’s case especially, when the abuse was generally consistent regardless of his own performances, it seems incredibly unfair on a man who undoubtedly cares about the club, and whether he is good enough or not, always plays for the badge.
In addition to this offensive action from the club, there have also been strong rumours that the Swiss international will be leaving the club in January. This surely stems from the complete breakdown in his relationship with those who failed to take the side of their employee. I for one do not blame him for this reaction whatsoever, and would much rather the club focused their ire on the so-called “fans” who provide this abuse. It would be sad to see him leave under such a cloud of anger. Whilst he remains an Arsenal player however, he will receive my full support, and I encourage other fans to follow suit. He may not be the best player we have ever had in midfield, but he is still fundamentally part of the Arsenal family. We have to stick by our own.