Last Sunday, Unai Emery‘s men lost a 2 goal advantage against local rivals Crystal Palace after conceding a penalty and a second half equaliser from Jordan Ayew. Apart from the continuity of mediocrity that Emery somehow managed to maintain, the pressure was taken off by his captain Xhaka who upset the fans even more.
Halfway through the second half the Swiss international’s number came up on the substitution board to which the fans reacted by cheering his departure off the pitch. This wasn’t something new the midfielder had faced as the last time this happened was just a week ago against Sheffield United where the Londoners lost to a lone goal. Though there was no initial reaction from the player to the fans being overjoyed by his substitution, the fact that he walked off rather slow when his side desperately needed a goal upset the fans.
What followed was a mass of boos and jeers from the home crowd as their captained walked off. However, it did not stop there as the former Borussia Monchengladbach man proceeded to cup his hand to his ear in a gesture to mock the fans. As he reached the touchline, the skipper snubbed a handshake from the gaffer and proceeded to throw his shirt away whilst shouting the fans to ‘fu*k off’ as he walked down the tunnel looking very distraught.
Naturally the fans did not take the incident well and have been out for blood ever since. Majority of the match going fans believed he should be stripped of captaincy.
The ex-Basel star has never been a favourite among fans due to his error-prone nature, despite drastically improving and becoming one of the most pivotal players in midfield for the North London outfit last season, forming a great partnership with new arrival Lucas Torreira. With just 1 single error leading to shot last season (yes, shocking), the playmaker’s improvement was much more than significant. Nevertheless, fans never paid attention to that and carried on with their agenda. After all, these are the same group of people who voted Alexandre Lacazette as Arsenal Player of the Season for the last term.
However, despite what Xhaka did and despite it being beyond unprofessional, the Gooners had such a breakdown coming. The fans have never been fair to the player; from expecting him to be a defensive midfielder – which he isn’t – to abusing him on the pitch and on social media constantly.
Though Arsenal are often associated with class, the fans have shown none of that for their skipper. They have always been quick to criticise and slow to praise, which wouldn’t have been an issue if that’s where it ends. The Albanian has often had to disable comments on his social media posts so as to avoid being bombarded with abusive comments which ranged from asking him to ironically ‘fu*k off’ from their club to telling him he’d be doing a favour to the club if he took his own life.
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But get this, it doesn’t even stop there. When Xhaka stripped these abusive fans of their ability to send abusive comments, they took to doing that on his wife’s posts — who was pregnant at the time. Following the birth of their child, these “fans” followed up by commenting obscenities about the little girl with multiple comments suggesting the infant should be subjected sexual assault.
Everyone reaches a breaking point at some time or the other and this was Xhaka’s. This moment had been built up since the day he signed for the Emirates side over 3 years ago.
Emery did not help his case by stating “he [Xhaka] was wrong” during the post-match interview, completely throwing him under the bus. Under Arsene Wenger, such a thing wouldn’t have happened as he always defends his men publicly and deals how he sees fit behind the scenes. Looking back at the Alexis Sanchez incident where the Chilean had completely made the dressing room a hostile environment, Wenger refused to throw him under the bus.
The Emmanuel Eboue incident was quite similar, where yet again the Frenchman had defended his player instead of singling him out publicly, generating an even stronger reaction from the fans. If I were to speculate, it was a perfect strategy from the former Sevilla man to shift attention from his woeful management in recent months.
However, it was widely reported that the dressing room supported the Swiss as they felt the fans were equally responsible for the entire debacle, with reports suggesting Emery would lose the dressing room if captaincy changes. Torreira was even spotted by the club’s official photographer shedding tears when the incident took place.
Didn't want to post these pictures but felt I had to. This is Lucas Torreira's emotional reaction to the abuse Granit Xhaka received after his substitution, in tears and inconsolable. Absolute love and respect for his captain. pic.twitter.com/ijKOvwkYx2
— Stuart MacFarlane (@Stuart_PhotoAFC) October 28, 2019
So called fans sending death threats to player wives, wishing cancer on their children and screaming at player for not signing a shirt they’ll sell on eBay. Not the Arsenal I fell in love with.
— Stuart MacFarlane (@Stuart_PhotoAFC) October 31, 2019
The situation must be well beyond grim for official employees working closely with the club to be coming out with such statements.
Nevertheless, Xhaka was eventually stripped of captaincy which has now been handed to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Reports have surfaced that the Gunners are already looking to offload the midfielder during the January transfer window and are actively on the lookout for suitors, despite him issuing an apology to the fans.
The following is a message from Granit Xhaka… pic.twitter.com/YG5lBKmQvi
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) October 31, 2019
Safe to say Xhaka no longer has a future at Arsenal, even though everything could’ve been handled in a much, much more calm and professional manner. But instead the manager has chosen to throw his player under the bus and antagonise him further in the eyes of the supporters. The same phrase is what pops up every single time the incident surfaces — “this wouldn’t have happened under Wenger.”