Granit Xhaka ‘crucial’ part of surprise Arsenal title challenge – Mikel Arteta
Mikel Arteta praised the influence of granite
A key figure in Arteta’s midfield this season alongside Thomas Partey, Xhaka became a respected leader and redeemed himself in the eyes of fans after a public row in 2019 threatened his place in the squad.
Bundesliga club Bayer Leverkusen have been heavily linked with a move for the 30-year-old, whose contract expires at the end of next season.
He spent four years in Germany with Borussia Monchengladbach before Arsène Wenger signed him to Arsenal in 2016 for around £30million. However, he had a strained relationship with fans, which culminated in a confrontation when he was substituted during a game against Crystal Palace at the Emirates four years ago.
He was then stripped of his captaincy by manager Unai Emery and his time at the club appeared to be over.
This season, however, the Switzerland international enjoyed a full recovery as Arsenal led Manchester City to the title until the final weeks of the season, returning to the Champions League after a six-year absence.
“For me he was crucial – really, really important at every level and I think for the team and the club too,” said Arteta, who said he would only comment on his side’s future in the Premier League after Sunday -Final against the Wolves.
“In the great moments like this season he had, and in the difficult ones because I think we’ve become a better club and better people and we’ve understood certain situations much better than just judging them.”
“I think the club and a lot of people have done a really good job of understanding what happened emotionally and why those reactions happened.
“Having the courage to say, ‘Okay, face the situation, look.'” There will be a moment of doubt, but when you believe in what you’re doing and stand face to face and say what you feel it usually works out just fine.
“If you look at how he behaved. We have some others who bring an absolute pleasure to these guys by the way they treat them. And he has an honest and unique willingness to help them. It’s not acting, it’s real.
“It makes the difference. We have four or five in that dressing room who were critical in allowing these players to progress, getting the right support, inspiring them and challenging them at the right moments when needed to get them in the right direction when they were tempted to go elsewhere. You need that in this dressing room.”
Arteta said he would take the time to recharge after a grueling season that saw Arsenal top the table for 248 days before slipping – a record for any side that has failed to win the title .
The team were eight points clear as recently as early April before a series of draws against Liverpool, West Ham and Southampton weakened their lead and eventually allowed Manchester City to overtake them with a stunning 4-1 win at the Etihad.
The manager predicted the challenge would be even greater if Arsenal were to prevent City from clinching a record fourth consecutive title but planned to take a break from football for a period in the final season.
“I have the energy to go into the final game and really feel that connection again, to play well, win the game and end the season right,” he said.
“Then I have a different kind of energy without being so physical and exhausting and being there every day but also having time to think; to plan what we want to do, to try to implement it, but also to recharge my batteries, next to my family, next to my friends, on a beautiful beach without thinking about football.
“It’s very important (to be able to switch off). Personally, I need to get better at it, but I think I have good help nearby.”