Arsenal: If this is goodbye, then Granit Xhaka leaves with his head held high
There was a time when Granit Xhaka would log onto his social media to a wave of abuse, but now he is being inundated with messages begging him to stay at Arsenal.
Xhaka is in advanced talks with Bayer Leverkusen over a £13million move this summer that would bring to an end his seven-year stay at Emirates Stadium.
The midfielder has endured a turbulent time in north London and was ready to join Hertha Berlin in January 2020 after a public falling out with fans and being stripped of the captaincy.
Xhaka was persuaded to stay by manager Mikel Arteta and has rebuilt his connection with the fans, which is why he wants his future resolved before Sunday’s final game, at home to Wolves.
After everything he and the fans have been through, the 30-year-old wants the chance to say his farewells if this weekend is, indeed, the time to say goodbye.
It is a bold call from Arsenal to be selling Xhaka — a sign of the ruthless rebuild they are ready to undertake this summer. The midfielder is happy at the club and has just enjoyed his best season but, with a year running on his contract, it has been decided now might be the time to part ways.
Xhaka enjoys a good relationship with Arteta and sporting director Edu, which has helped talks. Likewise, Leverkusen’s interest has aided affairs. They are ready to offer Xhaka a long-term deal and make him a key part of their plans, with manager Xabi Alonso ensuring the Switzerland midfielder he is staying on at the club next season.
If Xhaka was to leave Arsenal, he wanted to continue playing at a high level and be a key player. He feels fitter then ever and is playing his best football for years. The fact Leverkusen is closer to the family of his wife, Leonita, is a bonus but not a deciding factor.
Unlike if he had left in 2020, Xhaka will depart Arsenal with his head held high. Those who know him believe he has grown hugely, both on and off the pitch, from the 23-year-old who arrived in 2016. Then, he was described as being hot-headed and with a short fuse. Those traits remain, but they are far less prominent.
Xhaka is part of Arsenal’s leadership group and was vice-captain this season. He hates lateness and is not afraid to call people out. Young players, in particular, have felt his wrath if he feels they are getting too big for their boots.
But there is a soft side, too. He regularly organises team nights out and meals. He is not especially close to anyone in the squad but is respected by everyone. His closest bonds are with his family and he spends days off going for coffees with his family in the park. He often goes unnoticed, not least because he drives a Smart car; he is not one for flashy things and likes it because it is easy to park.
He is described as the ‘big adult’ of a young Arsenal squad, and losing him explains why the Gunners are keen to sign Manchester City captain Ilkay Gundogan.
The Gunners are about to lose a leader who will leave big shoes to fill.