It is easy to look at Granit Xhaka and his behaviour on Sunday against Crystal Palace as he was replaced by a teenager, but the problem is not him – it’s Unai Emery. Granit Xhaka should never have been made captain.
You’d be hard pushed to find an Arsenal fan who agreed with Unai Emery’s choice even though we all knew that he was going to hand the armband to the Swiss midfielder anyway. There were some, at the time, who pointed out he’s the de facto captain of his national side and arrived at Arsenal having been captain in the Bundesliga. For three mangers to pick him as their leader, he must surely have something about him.
But the Premier League is neither of those two footballing arenas. Its fast pace means even a short delay in critical thinking will see you made a mug of and that happens to Granit Xhaka regularly in ways we are all too familiar with.
But he didn’t award himself the armband. He doesn’t keep picking himself when he’s badly out of form. That’s on the head coach.
Let’s be clear, there was no excuse for Xhaka’s reaction to the fans who, in turn, should perhaps not have been booing their captain in the first place. By Xhaka’s standards, he hadn’t even had a bad game. But when you realise that it wasn’t so much Xhaka going off they were cheering/booing but Unai Emery who, once again, was having to make in-match adjustments that should have been made to the starting lineup, the reaction starts to make a bit more sense.
This season Arsenal fans have found no joy in the Premier League. Arsenal’s displays have been the stuff even fans of a mid-table side would grumble about. Throwing away another two-goal lead against a side seen as our inferiors while Manchester United were winning was simply another shit cherry on top of Emery’s poo pie collection.
The worst Manchester United side in my 44-year memory sits just three points behind us in the table having conceded four goals fewer. Sheffield United are in the same position, although they have conceded six fewer. Leicester are four points above us.
The worst thing is none of this is surprising. Arsenal’s end of season collapse last year did nothing but prompt the club to move in the transfer window, but you can buy all the players you want, if they don’t have a clue what they are supposed to do on the pitch it won’t matter.
How the club deal with this Xhaka shambles will be telling. The board are said to still be behind Emery – for now – and we know he loves him. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Emery stuck with him, although the player himself may decide his future lies elsewhere.
Precedent dictates he is stripped of the captaincy immediately. William Gallas lost it for sitting in a huff in the middle of the pitch. How Xhaka reacted was much worse, more immature and the exact opposite of how a captain is supposed to behave. It’s not supposed to be about him, it’s about the team and the club.
If Xhaka was a smarter man – and I think we can all agree he’s not – he would have known it was less about him.
He would have quickened his pace from a trudge to a jog, aware his side were drawing 2-2 in a game they badly needed to win and time was running out. He didn’t.
He opted to front it out and take on the entire fanbase. You only get to do that if you’re in the right and no matter what you think about fans booing, telling them to ‘fuck off’ is never going to put you in that position.
One of the biggest criticisms of Unai Emery’s football is it’s so boring it makes you want to drive spikes through your eyes just to give them something different to look at.
This soap opera, at least, distracts from that for a while. But for a club that prides itself on doing things the ‘right way’ to have two club captains in three months throw their toys out of the pram is perhaps more telling than anything else that’s happened since Arsene Wenger finally walked away.
The only winner I can see from all this is Mesut Ozil.