Granit Xhaka was already among the least popular players with Arsenal fans.
How much worse did it just get?
The Swiss midfielder and Arsenal captain was showered with jeers as he left the pitch during a 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace on Sunday, and his response told quite a story. Xhaka didn’t appear to agree with being substituted in the first place, carelessly chucking his captain’s armband at teammate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Then, amid fans at the Emirates voicing their displeasure, he seemed to egg on the vitriol and mouth “f—- off” before taking his jersey off and walking straight down the tunnel instead of to the bench.
You can watch the entire sequence here:
It’s an ugly situation all around, and we’ll start by noting that Arsenal fans can be a harshly critical and obsessive bunch, even by big clubs’ standards.
That said, Xhaka has been a target of their scorn seemingly ever since he arrived in the Premier League, and it’s not hard to see why. He’s never really settled in, his casual recklessness failing to mesh with what the club has asked him to do.
Xhaka is more valuable as a deeper-lying lock-picker against defensive sides, and he’s also dangerous taking set pieces. He’s not a pure defensive midfielder, nor has he ever been adept at winning back possession.
That didn’t stop former manager Arsene Wenger from installing Xhaka as a the main plug in front of his back three formations, and it hasn’t stopped Unai Emery from tasking him with being the key catalyst in protecting the leads his side has built.
Sunday against Palace, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and David Luiz scored inside of 10 minutes to jump Arsenal ahead. But the Gunners conceded a penalty later in the first half, then watched as Jordan Ayew headed home the equalizer early in the second half:
Not long after, Emery decided to bring off Xhaka, and Xhaka threw his tantrum in response.
The Gunners signed Xhaka to a “long-term” contract extension in summer 2018, and at this point it’s hard to see them recouping the $45 million or so they paid Borussia Monchengladbach for his services back in 2016.
So it’s up to Emery and the team to figure out how to maximize Xhaka’s strengths. Or they could just keep things as they are, and listen as the boos and the barbs swell up at the Emirates.
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