Granit Xhaka doesn’t need a captain’s armband to be a leader at Arsenal


Granit Xhaka has a complex history with the Arsenal captaincy – but now the Swiss midfielder feels reconnected with the club’s fan base, which he believes he can lead without.

The 29-year-old was stripped of his captaincy by former head coach Unai Emery in October 2019 after he berated fans who cheered his substitution during a Premier League tie against Crystal Palace, an incident that led to death threats against his family .

The problem was just one in a long list of problems for a number of Arsenal skippers, with Laurent Koscielny and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leaving the club under a cloud.

Xhaka has worn the armband since then, including in Friday’s season-opening win at the Palace, but only temporarily when the regular captain is substituted.

Martin Odegaard was confirmed as Arsenal’s youngest full-time captain on the eve of the new season, but Xhaka believes he still has a role to play in guiding the youngest squad in the top flight.

“I don’t feel like a grandfather, but when I see the guys like 18, 17, they come up (to the first team) and I feel like, ‘F**k me … I’m 29’ at times,” he said he.

“No, that’s a joke. I feel very good. After what happened to me two and a half three years ago, I tried to come back as strong as possible, even with the new guys. I give them respect.

“They also give me respect. I try to treat everyone equally no matter how old they are.

“Of course you don’t need it (the captaincy). Everyone can see the leaders on this team. Of course you need a captain for the team if we need him. But I don’t believe much in the armband.

“I have a lot of good relationships with the guys. It doesn’t matter what nationality they belong to. If they need me, they know I’m always here trying to help with the experiences I’ve already had. And so far I think we’re doing a good job.”

Xhaka’s influence on the Arsenal squad has been suspected by Aaron Ramsdale, who has been impressed by what he’s seen since joining Emirates Stadium last summer.

“He’s an essential part of our group whether he’s playing or not,” said the England goalkeeper.

“When he was injured at the beginning of last season, you could feel his presence in the dressing room. When he plays you can feel his presence. I think the captain’s armband is disproportionate.

“It comes from what has happened to a few captains here in recent years. But then there’s guys like Rob Holding, another guy everyone talks to when they’re not playing. You have leaders who just do it on the pitch.

“We’ve had a few arguments on the pitch, myself and Granite, but one person who can be a great leader is someone who just forgets when you get into the dressing room.”

Xhaka, who confirmed he is currently studying for his coaching badges, also has the respect of Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta.

Xhaka has credited Mikel Arteta with keeping him at Emirates Stadium. (Julian Finney/PA)

(PA Archive)

“He’s the reason I’m still with this football club,” said Xhaka, reaffirming his position from last season.

“The whole club knows why I’m still here because I left three years ago. My bags were packed and ready but I had a meeting with Mikel when he came – he wanted my opinion on what had happened and I explained it to him.

“I remember exactly: I said to him: ‘This has nothing to do with you’ because I didn’t know him and never played with him. Obviously I knew his name but not the person and I said, ‘I’m gone, I can’t wear that shirt anymore.’

“He said, ‘Give me a chance for six months, and if after six months you’re still not happy, I’m the guy to help you — don’t run away, but you can go.’

“I haven’t spoken to my family, to anyone, and I don’t usually do that. But I said, ‘OK, Mikel – I’ll stay for you.’ And I’m still here.”

For the most part, Xhaka has built bridges with Arsenal supporters and he feels that his beautiful goal against Manchester United last season – and a celebration where he blew kisses in the stands – helped heal those wounds .

“Absolutely, that was maybe one of my greatest moments at this football club,” he added.

“Of course everyone knows what happened three years ago. We are sitting here three years later and to give you this answer that this is one of the greatest moments, three years ago I would have said that this would never have happened.

“But of course I feel a lot more love from the fans. For me, too, trying to build something with them will certainly take time. But I have the feeling that we are on the right track.” Granit Xhaka doesn’t need a captain’s armband to be a leader at Arsenal

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