Granit Xhaka and Arsenal: Is this the final goodbye?

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Alexandre Lacazette’s face after Granit Xhaka’s goal against Manchester United last weekend said it all.

While the Switzerland international may divide opinion among the Arsenal fanbase, within the dressing room there are few players who garner as much respect as the 29-year-old.

And that was clear to see last Saturday when Lacazette and his team-mates swamped Xhaka in the celebrations that followed a sensational strike that sealed a crucial 3-1 victory in the race for a top-four finish in the Premier League.

“I was dreaming of that because he deserves it,” Mikel Arteta said of Xhaka’s big moment.

“If every fan, or individual spent five, 10 minutes with Granit – or even two minutes – they will understand the person that he is, the professional he is and how much he cares about the club.”

When it comes to controversy, there really is no-one quite like Xhaka at Arsenal.

There have been five red cards in five years, as well as several big individual errors that have proved costly to his side.

And there was, of course, the infamous moment his strained relationship with the Arsenal fans boiled over in spectacular fashion when he was substituted by Unai Emery during a home game against Crystal Palace in October 2019.

Xhaka, who had been named captain just a month earlier, took off his shirt and could clearly be seen telling supporters around Emirates Stadium to "F*ck off" as they jeered him off the pitch.

It was an incident that led to the midfielder being stripped of the captaincy and he has since admitted that his "suitcases were literally by the door" in the immediate aftermath, with a move back to Germany all but agreed.

But the departure of Emery soon after and the appointment of Arteta turned things on their head.

“Mikel began to talk about how I was a big part of his plans,” Xhaka revealed in an interview with The Players' Tribune.

“I liked his warmth. He was honest, straight. Clear plans. I felt I could trust him. He told me to give him six months and then if I still wanted to leave, no problem.

“Normally I spend a lot of time making these decisions, but that day I broke my own rules. 

“My head had left Arsenalbut my heart had not. My heart was telling me, ‘You can’t leave this football club like this.'"

So, Xhaka stayed in north London and became an integral part of Arteta’s side.

And now, two years on, he is still very much a central figure in the new look Arsenal that has emerged under the Spaniard.

While several other senior stars have been moved on during the dramatic overhaul that has taken place at Emirates Stadium, Xhaka has remained and was even handed a new contract last summer after a potential move to Roma broke down.

“We need some balance in everything that we do,” Arteta said, when discussing Xhaka’s importance. “Especially with the characters and personalities that are in the team. 

“With the youth and academy players that we are bringing in, with the signings that we made, Granit was key, in my opinion.

“He was always going to have a key leadership role to [help us] achieve what we wanted.”

Xhaka’s faults have been clear to see during his stay in north London. The disciplinary issues have been well-publicised, as have been the errors that led to goals.

However, despite all that, all three managers he’s played under in north London have continued to use him at the heart of their midfield when he has been available.

Arteta trusts him implicitly, handing him 22 starts in the Premier League this season and Xhaka has not let him down, with his performances in the recent wins against Chelsea and United shining a light on his influence.

But there are signs that the Spaniard could finally be preparing for life without Xhaka at Arsenal.

He almost left last summer, with the failure of Arsenal and Roma to agree a fee the only thing that prevented him joining Jose Mourinho in the Italian capital.

It would be no surprise, however, to see Roma return for Xhaka at the end of the season.

Mourinho remains a big admirer of the midfielder and it’s doubtful Arteta would block any move, providing the Serie A outfit meet Arsenal’s asking price.

While Arsenal’s manager continues to have full faith in Xhaka, a slight shift in formation since the turn of the year has given a glimpse into how he wants to set his team up next season.

And that is with Thomas Partey at the base of the midfield, with two players operating in more advanced roles ahead of them.

Xhaka had been fulfilling one of those roles prior to Partey’s injury and while he had been performing well, it is clearly not a position for him in the long-term.

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Which is perhaps why Arsenal are exploring the possibility of signing Youri Tielemans from Leicester this summer and have maintained their interest in Wolves’ Ruben Neves – a player they probably would have signed last year had Xhaka’s move to Roma gone through.

While many questioned why Xhaka was handed an extension after that potential deal collapsed, it did protect his market value from an Arsenal point of view.

So, should a suitable offer arrive this summer, it could be that this is the year the midfielder finally brings the curtain down on his always-eventful stint in north London.

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