Thursday 23 January 2020

Arteta brings Xhaka back into fold with promise of support

Granit Xhaka. Photo: Reuters
Granit Xhaka. Photo: Reuters

Sam Dean

Mikel Arteta talked Granit Xhaka out of leaving Arsenal by promising that the midfielder would enjoy his football again and vowing to push the club to support him.

Xhaka looked likely to depart only a few weeks ago, when his agent publicly declared his wish to return to Germany after reaching an agreement with Hertha Berlin.

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The former captain's relationship with the Arsenal supporters reached its lowest point in October, when he swore at fans as he was booed off the pitch against Crystal Palace.

But Arteta, who was installed as head coach last month, has been desperate to keep Xhaka, and spoke in his first few days about how highly he rated him as a player.

Ahead of Arsenal's match at Palace tomorrow, Xhaka has once again become a crucial part of the side and has impressed under Arteta.

On St Stephen's Day - Arteta's first match - Xhaka's representative, Jose Noguera, told Swiss newspaper 'Blick' that he had informed Arteta, head of football Raul Sanllehi and technical director Edu of Xhaka's intention to leave.

Arteta has since been able to change Xhaka's mind, though, and the Spaniard believes that the 27-year-old will now be staying.

Arteta said: "I wanted him to hear from me my opinion on him, and that I was ready to support him and ready to push the club to be supportive of him, too, because I thought he could be a really good player for us and he could enjoy playing under me.

"I tried to convince him that way. He thought about it, he had a very positive response afterwards, and I think he changed his mind."

Xhaka was stripped of the captaincy in the aftermath of the Palace match, which was the second time he had been jeered in weeks during Arsenal's difficult run under previous head coach Unai Emery.

Arteta said it was "not ideal" when the players respond to animosity from the supporters.

"It is very common now," Arteta said. "Every club has its own issues. Some things within the club, some within the media, some from social media. It is very difficult nowadays to have one full year where everything is perfect.

"It is the environment, we have to deal with that and hopefully in a few months nobody remembers these issues. Of course, it is not ideal when players respond and it creates an instability. So as much as we can avoid it, the better."

Xhaka has been reinvigorated by the change of system under Arteta, and by the return of Lucas Torreira to his preferred defensive midfield position.

Xhaka's presence within the Arsenal team has been one of the few constants in a turbulent few years for the club since he joined in 2016.

He has now played under four managers, from Arsene Wenger to Emery, to Freddie Ljungberg and now Arteta, and he has always been one of the first names on the team sheet when available, despite regular criticism from pundits and supporters.

Arteta will now hope that Arsenal's upturn in form can continue in case Hertha Berlin maintain their interest in signing the midfielder.

Arsenal are keen on making additions of their own, although Arteta has said he is not expecting to make any major investments in the January transfer window.

It is understood Arsenal are looking to add a box-to-box midfielder and a defender, although their stretched finances mean they are more likely to pursue loan deals than transfers.

Youngsters Emile Smith Rowe and Tyreece John-Jules are set to leave on loan in the coming days, while Arsenal are also considering the short-term future of Eddie Nketiah, who has returned from a loan spell at Leeds.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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