The divisiveness Granit Xhaka will baffle everyone for years to come, but his redemption arc makes him an Arsenal legend of the Emirates era.

The moment Bukayo Saka beat his man and went inside the box, it was clear there was a goal coming. A short pass to Martin Odegaard, who tried to flick it, which was disastrous, but if it had to fall invitingly to someone, it had to be Granit Xhaka.

It was a sight nobody had seen before or envisaged as Xhaka went to the bench and hugged fellow midfielder Mohamed Elneny in what seemed like a farewell of sorts. Before full-time, there were further hints as Mikel Arteta took Xhaka off for the Emirates to applaud and bid their divisive son goodbye.

It is not the first news about Xhaka’s impending departure has come out. In fact, it us not even the second time; probably the third or fourth instance that fans have been confident the time’s up for the Swiss midfielder. And maybe, this time around, it is true.

From jeers and hurls of abuse, not only to him but also threats to his family in October 2019, to the North Bank singing “we want you to stay”, Xhaka has come a long way to become a bonafide star of the Emirates era. It has been a long since any player in an Arsenal shirt left with their head held high and without acrimony.

It was a disastrous night in October 2019 against Crystal Palace, where Unai Emery had to take his then-captain off the pitch. Such were the decibels levels rising inside the Emirates, jeering on Xhaka. As a reaction, he retaliated and said words to the fans, only to reel them up even more.

What followed was a surety Xhaka had played his final game for the club, and the general consensus was ‘good riddance’. In the right mind, no emotional fan wanted to see the midfielder in an Arsenal shirt again. By his own admission, he had already packed his bags, waiting for the January train to arrive.

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Instead, Mikel Arteta arrived well before the scheduled departure of Emery and turned things around. To think of it, the Spaniard has gone through a lot in his three-and-a-half years at Arsenal, and Xhaka was in the think-tank of everything, good or bad.

Arteta was instrumental in convincing to stay and not blocking a move for Xhaka in the January window of 2020. In the following summer, fans were open to seeing the midfielder leave, which was the second instance of news arriving of an impending departure.

Ruben Neves was already the fans’ choice to replace him. What happened in the background may never come out. Still, as presented to all of us, the truth is that Jose Mourinho’s AS Roma squabbled over a few millions. Instead, Xhaka signed a new contract, which again divided opinions.

The following season was a disaster, but Xhaka revived their form with a brilliant free-kick from the edge of the box in the win over Chelsea. From that point, Arsenal were a force to reckon with, althoough the progress has been steady, if not rapid.

If one were to argue, Xhaka has been the most improved Arsenal player this season, we might tend to ignore that, considering the glitter provided by the attacking trio of Saka, Odegaard and Gabriel Martinelli. Still, the Swiss midfielder has been a revelation.

For so long, Xhaka has dominated media talking points as being the revival player, completing a full comeback circle, etc. It’s true; how he had transformed himself when everyone doubted has been nothing short of sensational.

The Granit Xhaka story

A young, combative midfielder Arsene Wenger signed for £35 million to replace a departing captain. This was a young man coming from Germany, carrying baggage rarely anyone’s capable of carrying and entering the Premier League frame. Little did he know the puddle he was putting his foot on, for he would remember the time it would take to rub the mud off his face.

“I’m an aggressive player and also a leader.” These were his first words after joining Arsenal. The man had the personality to captain teams, the character to become a leader on the pitch and a stubbornness way beyond his tender age.

Yet, everyone seemed to ignore the state of the Arsenal midfield when he arrived. Where fans kept searching for a star midfielder, Xhaka’s first responsibility was to paper over cracks long formed in this Arsenal side. In that period, there was nobody to teach him new things or give him an understanding of the league and how it operates.

Many have long thought of the Premier League as this place where physical football meets violence and where lunges are appreciated. Xhaka would soon find out and continue to fall prey to the erratic nature of English football.

Soon, he garnered a reputation as this reckless, abrasive, red-card-worth player who often became a victim of his own making. In the seasons to follow, sometimes rather harshly, referees would not hesitate to show Xhaka a straight red if he was involved in something remotely deemed violent.

At one point, Xhaka said, “When I came to the Premier League, everybody said in this league you can go very hard, and I love it; this is exactly my game and what I want to do. But when you see some tackles and imagine if I was in this position? I would be sent off straight away.”

Uncharacteristically even Wenger had once said, “I would encourage him not to tackle.”. In theory, there was no proper coach to determine what the player thought on the inside and where he would like to improve. Coaching, in this day and age, does wonders, and Arteta was the one who figured this out for a transformational period to follow.

Xhaka fell in the last days of Wenger and the beginning of a strange period at the club. Even Unai Emery was a victim of this weird state of the club, which often caused reputational damage to the individuals involved. When Arteta came, the first order of business was to restore the club’s faith in Xhaka and convince him to stay.

Since that point, the redemption arc was created, which was completed with a solid performance in his last-ever game. If he does depart, the player that walks out of the door is not the same Xhaka that entered it, but someone transformed by the presence of a good coach like Arteta.

Granit Xhaka: The man Arsenal fans’ love’.

It was only banter, but Xhaka pointed out that he has been here six years, and within three games, Oleksandr Zinchenko had a song. The Arsenal fans responded by creating a jingle for the Swiss star. It has since stuck with them and is possibly a testament to what the player has delivered this season.

It is a wild show of affection, considering these are the same fans that wanted his head a few years back. It had come to a point where everything wrong the team did, and the blame fell on Xhaka. The tearing of the captain’s armband and the swearing at the stands really fractured the midfielder’s relationship with the fans.

What followed was unprecedented, with fans threatening his family online, making his life difficult at Arsenal. In an interview with the Players’ Tribune, Xhaka said, “My bags were packed. The passports were out. I was done with Arsenal. Finished. There was a contract on the table from another club, and all I had to do was sign. “

There is no way to imagine a player turning things around from this point. But Xhaka is a man of character and has the personality to do the unthinkable. The song from the Arsenal fans is a testament to the energy he brings and the connection he has made with the supporters after a fractious period.

If this is indeed the farewell, it stands right there with some of the game’s legends. As emotional as it was on the inside, the outside was the expression of joy for the happiness this man the Arsenal fans’ love has given them. For he is a player that reflects on Arsenal’s time without the Champions League, and he departs by leading the team into the coveted competition. It is a shame he won’t be there to lead this side there.


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