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They say that time heals, and in the case of Granit Xhaka, his wounds have undergone state-of-the-art intensive care.
Rewind to the 27th October 2019, to the cacophony of hostile boos and the toxic launching of derogatives. The Gunners had seen themselves pegged back by Crystal Palace having taken a 2-0 lead early on in the fixture.
The 61st minute approaches, Xhaka’s name is read over the ageing speakers at the Emirates Stadium. Hostility grows, each exhaustive step the Swiss takes off the pitch is greeted with boos of a more and more venomous nature.
Never one to back down from what he sees as injustice, the then 27-year-old cups his ears to the crowd - the jeers increase.
All this animosity culminating in the midfielder telling the 60,000 in attendance to “f*ck off”, before storming down the tunnel to the home dressing room.
Not a great afternoon for Granit Xhaka...— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) October 28, 2019
The Arsenal captain was jeered by his own fans as he was substituted, before reportedly swearing at the crowd and rejecting a handshake from Unai Emery! 😳
Read the Arsenal manager's response here: https://t.co/i0Jq3l1qJN pic.twitter.com/DRb3JXrXm9
This wasn’t an isolated incident, it was a culmination of months of abuse, threats to himself and his family, and Xhaka defended himself in this cauldron of hatred.
Following that fateful afternoon, the former Arsenal captain appeared beyond the realms of return, destined to be cast away into the abyss, alongside an ever-growing list of failed Gunners’ captaincies.
Xhaka, or perhaps, more specifically, the soon to be incoming, Arteta, had a different idea.
The Spaniard saw the leadership qualities, the intangible aspects of a player’s existence, as core to his rebuild, a fundamental aspect of mending a decaying ship, with a crew that was rotten to the core.
Mikel Arteta on Xhaka’s renaissance: “Things happening in his life, his private life, he’s a father now. He’s been through difficult moments here, he’s found a lot of support internally to deal with certain situations. Credit to him for what he’s done.” pic.twitter.com/4NKv7Cd27u— afcstuff (@afcstuff) April 29, 2022
Even in the face of copious offers from Italy over the course of multiple seasons, Arteta remained convinced of retaining his midfielder’s services.
Perhaps the completion of his redemption arc came against Manchester United last season, rifling home a screamer from outside the box, before celebrating in-front of an Arsenal faithful full of undying adulation.
After the game, Arteta spoke of how core the 29-year-old is to the cultural identity his is trying to build:
"If every fan, or individual spent five, 10 minutes with Granit - even two minutes - they will understand the person he is, the professional that he is and how much he cares about the club."
For the midfielder, the feeling is mutual, with his boss the main reason his talents are not further ashore, somewhere on the continent:
"Mikel and I are very close. When he came two years ago he told me exactly what I wanted to hear.”
“I was missing a coach like him, very warm and open with clear ideas and he is always behind me no matter what people were saying about me."
Despite that rapturous reception, the season didn’t go as the Gunners wished, falling at the final hurdle to bitter North London rivals Tottenham.
Yet, the Swiss remains. In a period of revolution, evolution and expulsion, Xhaka has found himself an indispensable cog in the meticulously crafted machine Arteta is engineering.
There have been calls to transition beyond the midfielder, and this may well come in the final stages of the transfer window, with the likes of Youri Tielemans and Lucas Paqueta linked.
Try as the potential incomings like, the intangible aspects of Xhaka’s being, the leadership, the unbreakable will and authoritative aura that the Gunners no.34 conducts himself with means he is a tough man to dislodge.
If Arsenal are to be successful in their hunt for Champions League football, then the 29-year-old will be absolutely crucial to that. In a squad of young, exciting talent, a mature head rested on unwavering shoulders is a blessing.
Xhaka went to the sporting depths of hell and seemed destined to be a permanent castaway. Yet, through brute force, determination, and the never-say-die attitude - the intangible aspects of a player - he has risen from the ashes.
Any success the Arteta project has, whether that be this season or into the future, has a debt to pay to the Swiss, in his role in setting solid foundations.
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