Granit Xhaka’s time at Arsenal looks set to be coming to an end. The midfielder is pushing for a return to Germany and the north London club are in advanced talks with Bayer Leverkusen over a deal of around £13 million ($16m). Should the transfer be finalised, it will bring to an end a rollercoaster seven years for the Switzerland international at Arsenal.
It wasn’t long ago that most Gunners fans would have gladly driven Xhaka to Germany themselves just to get him out of the club, but now he is expected to receive a standing ovation from 60,000 at the Emirates Stadium in what will most likely be his final game for the club on Sunday against Wolves.
Ahead of what looks set to be an emotional day for Xhaka, GOAL takes a look back at the highs and lows of his dramatic time with the Gunners…
Arsenal signed Xhaka from Borussia Mönchengladbach in May 2016. “Granit is an exciting young player, already with good Champions League and Bundesliga experience,” Arsene Wenger said. “We have been watching him for a long time now and he is a player who will add quality to our squad.”
Arsenal fans had been calling for a defensive midfielder to be signed for some time, so the capture of the 23-year-old was met with a lot of excitement.
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The slow start
Xhaka’s start to life at Arsenal was not an easy one. Given the Gunners had spent £35m to bring him in from Germany, most expected he would go straight into the side, but that was not the case. In fact, Xhaka started just six league games before December during his debut season in England, much to his frustration.
“It’s not about his quality at the moment as he adapts to the pace of the English game,” Wenger said. “For me, it’s about pairs who work together. [Francis] Coquelin and [Santi] Cazorla have worked well together. He will play games and every week he is stronger and better. He will have a huge impact as a player.”
His first goal
Xhaka’s first goal for Arsenal came in a 4-1 win at Hull City in September 2016. Having come on as a second-half substitute, the midfielder let fly with one of those trademark powerful left-footed strikes from distance which flew into the top corner in the final minute. It was a fabulous goal.
Red cards & Wenger criticism
Xhaka arrived with the reputation as somewhat of a hothead and he didn’t take long to live up to that billing. He was sent off twice within his first six months as an Arsenal player, and after his second dismissal, in a game against Burnley, Wenger surprised everyone by basically admitting that the defensive midfielder he had spent so much money on couldn’t tackle properly.
“He’s not naturally a great tackler,” said the Arsenal boss. “In his decision making, he is quite intelligent on the pitch. But it’s more the way he tackles that is not really convincing. He doesn’t master well the technique. I would encourage him not to tackle, to stay on his feet.”
A first trophy
Xhaka’s debut season in England may have been a bit up and down, but it certainly ended on a high at Wembley. Few gave Arsenal any chance in the FA Cup final against champions Chelsea, but they surprised everyone with a deserved 2-1 success.
Xhaka produced an excellent performance in the final as he claimed his first major trophy in an Arsenal shirt.
Handed the armband
After Wenger had left and been replaced by Unai Emery, Xhaka’s influence at Arsenal continued to grow. He’d become an integral part of the team, even if his popularity amongst the fanbase was far from high.
Many supporters felt Xhaka was a player that symbolised Arsenal’s decline because of a series of high-profile errors he had made during his time at the club. But Emery valued him highly, and that was made clear when he named his club captain for the 2019-20 season.
The darkest hour
Xhaka’s uneasy relationship with the Arsenal fans spilled over in the most brutal fashion during a game against Crystal Palace at the Emirates in October 2019. Supporters angrily jeered the midfielder as he walked slowly off the field having been substituted in the second half of a game that had seen Arsenal throw away a two-goal lead.
Xhaka reacted to the jeers by gesturing furiously at the fans and could clearly be seen to be telling them to “f*ck off”. At that point, there seemed like no way back for Xhaka. Everyone presumed he would never play for Arsenal again.
Stripped of the captaincy
In the aftermath of the incident against Crystal Palace, Emery reacted by stripping Xhaka of the captaincy just a matter of weeks after handing it to him. It was a decision that devastated Xhaka, who felt he had been hung out to dry by the management and the club.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang replaced him as captain.
The turning point
Xhaka was set on leaving during the 2020 January transfer window. Although Emery had started to integrate him back into the team following the incident against Palace, the midfielder had made his mind up to return to Germany.
A move to Hertha Berlin was all agreed, but then Mikel Arteta arrived to replace Emery and he was determined to keep Xhaka at the club. The new coach immediately held talks with the midfielder and convinced him to stay until the end of the season at least.
Another FA Cup win
After agreeing to stay, Xhaka became a very important player under Arteta and started to play some excellent football. He looked happy again and his performances were vitally important to Arsenal going on to win the FA Cup.
Xhaka was excellent in the run to Wembley and put in a fine showing in the final itself as Chelsea were beaten 2-1. After what he had gone through halfway through the season, it was remarkable to see him end the campaign still in an Arsenal shirt and with a trophy in his hands.
The new deal
There was a strong chance Xhaka would leave Arsenal in the summer of 2021, with Jose Mourinho keen to sign him for Roma. Arsenal were open to letting him go, too, should a suitable bid come in.
But when Roma failed to hit the figure they wanted, the Gunners instead handed the midfielder a new deal, showing that they still valued him highly.
The Man Utd goal
The 2021-22 season was a good one for Xhaka. As it wore on, he looked like a new player under Arteta, playing in a more advanced role that he had operated in before at Arsenal.
His popularity with the fans was growing, and so it was a special moment when he smashed in a stunning goal to seal a 3-1 win against Manchester United at the Emirates. It was a strike that supporters voted as the Goal of the Season.
Serenaded by the fans
When Arsenal played at Bournemouth at the start of the 2022-23 season, there was a moment in the second half when the away fans could be heard chanting Xhaka’s name. It was so noticeable because it had never happened before, and it was a clear sign of how he had managed to turn things around in north London.
Then, in the game at Brentford in September, it happened again – but this time the chant could be heard loud and clear and it was sung over and over again.
“I never, ever was thinking this would happen,” Xhaka said after the game. “To be in front of them [the travelling fans] then was very emotional after what happened three years ago.”
A North London derby goal
Xhaka was already enjoying a dream season before the North London derby rolled around in October. But things then got even better when he popped up to score the crucial third goal as Arsenal beat bitter rivals Tottenham 3-1 at a raucous Emirates.
Firing home from the edge of the box in front of the North Bank, Xhaka just stood there taking the acclaim of the fans. It was a special moment.
A triumphant farewell
Even though Arsenal fell at the final hurdle and missed out on the Premier League title, this has been a season of triumph for Xhaka. His redemption story has been one of the highlights of a remarkable campaign, and the fact he looks set to be given an emotional farewell by supporters after the game against Wolves on Sunday shows how much he has turned things round.
Once vilified, he is now celebrated, and that says a lot about his character and the season he has enjoyed.