Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka sees himself as a role model for young players despite receiving FIVE red cards – the new All of Nothing docuseries shows a different side to the midfielder… as his wife reveals he doesn’t sleep a wink after a bad display!
- Granit Xhaka has split the Arsenal fanbase since he joined the club in 2016
- The Swiss international has been heavily criticised in his Arsenal career
- In the last two years he has established himself more firmly despite red cards
- A different side to Xhaka is shown in the All or Nothing Arsenal documentary
Arsenal‘s Granit Xhaka is one of the most criticised players in English football – including by his club’s own fans – but he may also be one of the most misunderstood, according to the new All of Nothing docuseries.
The combative midfielder plays the game on the edge and consequently divides opinion.
The Switzerland international has split the Gunners fanbase ever since he joined the club from Borussia Monchengladbach in the summer of 2016 – not least because he has clocked up five red cards in five years at Arsenal, including two last season.
Granit Xhaka was sent off for the fourth time in his Gunners career against Man City in August
The latest, just 24 minutes into the EFL Cup semi-final first leg at Liverpool in January, could easily have cost his side the tie before it had even got going, and it prompted Gooners to take to social media – again – to castigate their former captain.
But Xhaka, 29, has taken the opportunity presented by the Amazon Prime Video cameras to give a different side of the story to the one the fans typically see.
‘People think I am very aggressive because of my game,’ he explained in the next instalment of the series, which will be streamed from Thursday. ‘You see us for 90 minutes on the pitch.
‘There are people who love you and people who don’t love you, really. They criticise you, they write you stuff. It is very hard.
‘People think that footballers are all about cars, houses, our money and stuff like this, but not one of us when we were kids started football because of the money.
‘You start football because you love it. People forget that we are as well human beings. It is family here and it is only together you can go through difficult times.
Xhaka was sent off for high challenge on Liverpool’s Diogo Jota when he was the last defender
Xhaka apologised to everyone at Arsenal for his red card away at Liverpool in the EFL Cup
The Swiss midfielder admitted he was sorry for his moment of madness early on at Anfield
In Xhaka’s account it is his passion for the game that has led him to accumulate five red cards since his Arsenal debut in the 2016-17 season. No player in the Premier League has received more reds in that period.
‘What I do, I love.’ Xhaka says of his midfield role for Arsenal.
With the exception of a mad moment when the Swiss grabbed Burnley’s Ashley Westwood by the throat, in December 2020, the majority of his red cards have been for reckless tackles.
He has explained previously that he finds himself in positions where he has to weigh up the risk of making a challenge, or pulling out. He has acknowledged he has to improve his decision making but also recognises that one of his strengths is his commitment to the cause, something manager Mikel Arteta clearly values.
‘This is who I am. I can’t change myself from today to tomorrow,’ he told Sky Sports earlier this year. ‘Of course, I need to improve and I know I need to improve.’
Xhaka is seen settling his forehead against the wall in frustration and disappointment
Xhaka plays the game on the edge, but crossed the line and found himself in trouble
The red cards are not the only point of controversy in Xhaka’s Arsenal career. He stormed off the pitch and told fans to ‘f*** off’ when substituted in Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace in 2019.
The eruption saw Unai Emery strip the captaincy from him and omit him from matchday squads as punishment.
Even so, Xhaka reveals in All or Nothing that part of his role under Arteta’s regime is to act as a mentor. Last season, Arsenal fielded the youngest team in the Premier League.
‘We have a very young team,’ said Xhaka. ‘Our job as experienced players is to give them a lot of advice and to tell them it is not so easy, because you need a lot of work.’
Despite his critics, Xhaka has always been someone that Mikel Arteta has looked to
Despite the external noise, Arteta sees Xhaka as a very positive influence in the Arsenal dressing room.
And All or Nothing offers a new take on Xhaka’s sending off at Liverpool. We see the scene before the game. Arteta knows that his side will have to raise their game to even live with Liverpool, let alone beat them, and he pumps them up before they take the field.
‘I want to look at your eyes and I want to see an attitude and fire and belief,’ he told the gathered players in the Anfield dressing room.
‘I want to see courage, when we defend and when we play…. Let’s f*****g go.’
Xhaka, defending a long diagonal ball from the Liverpool full back, Andy Robertson, towards Diogo Jota, who was advancing on the penalty area, attempted to clear into touch. He had done exactly what Arteta asked. He had taken responsibility and tracked the runner as he covered for team mates caught up field.
The second three – of eight – episodes in the series will stream on Prime Video from Thursday
But unsighted of his opponent, he only succeeded in booting Jota in the chest rather than volleying the ball high into the Anfield stands as he intended. While unfortunate, referee Michael Oliver had no choice but to send the midfielder off. The laws of the game do not account for intent.
The Amazon Prime Video cameras caught Xhaka back in the dressing room with less than half an hour played. He cut a disconsolate figure, pacing the room in his club-issue sliders and kit, before settling his forehead against the wall in frustration and disappointment.
Xhaka was slumped in his spot in the corner of the changing rooms when the half-time whistle blew.
At no point was Xhaka castigated by his team mates or the manager. While pundits and fans poured scorn upon him during the interval and after the game, the Arsenal camp appeared to accept the incident as a hazard of a difficult job.
Arteta urged his players to hold out in the second half, before giving his unhappy midfielder a hug.
Xhaka reacted furiously after he received jeers from fans when he was replaced by Bukayo Saka in the 61st minute of Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace in the 2019-20 season
Xhaka left referee with no choice by grabbing Burnley’s Ashley Westwood by throat in 2020
Arsenal hung on with a superb defensive display and returned to the dressing room, where Arteta addressed the team again, and the sending off.
‘When a team mate has to do something in the last line and he gets sent off, that’s when you lift him,’ Arteta said, pointing at Xhaka.
‘And you protect him and the way you have done it today, it was absolutely magnificent, guys. I am so proud of you.’
Back at the training ground, forwards Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah bantered with Xhaka over the red card.
Xhaka suggested that if Nketiah had not given the ball away the incident would never have occurred. The ‘domino effect’ started with the young striker, he joked, although the forwards were having none of it.
But Xhaka has established himself as a key player for the Gunners in the last two seasons
Xhaka says he stayed because of the desire of Mikel Arteta (right) and Edu (left) to keep him
‘I take the blame, no problem,’ Xhaka eventually offered sarcastically. ‘And if I don’t stop him, we are 1-0 down. So, thank you to Granit… just once.’
The docuseries balances the popular image of Xhaka as a hothead, who does not always put the team first. He clearly cares immensely.
Xhaka’s wife, Leonita, reveals in the series the toll the ups and downs of the game take on her husband and how much it hurts him when fans suggest he does not ‘give everything’ for the Gunners’ cause.
‘When they have lost a game and he comes home, he’s really upset,’ she said surrounded by the couple’s two young daughters.
Xhaka’s wife, Leonita, reveals in the series the toll the ups and downs of the game on him
‘I try to speak with him a little bit and tell him the next game’s better. But… he can’t sleep the whole night when they lose.’
For his part, Arteta has defined the values he expects his players to hold and exhibit. They are respect, commitment and passion. He finds all three in his uncompromising midfielder.
And according to Xhaka, it was Arteta and technical director Edu Gaspar’s wishes for him to remain at the club that ensured he stayed put, when he could have walked last summer.
They offered him a new deal until 2024 at the Emirates, which he signed in August 2021.
‘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,’ Arteta told Sky Sports in May. ‘And how much he cares about the club.’