Granit Xhaka reveals how ‘freak’ Mikel Arteta saved him from the Arsenal scraphead and convinced him to stay

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GRANIT XHAKA has revealed how his Arsenal career has been saved by the man he calls “a freak”.

Because when Mikel Arteta was appointed as manager in December 2019, Swiss international Xhaka was all set to quit the club.

And it was only a heart to heart conversation with the new arrival which convinced him to give the club one last chance to repair their broken relationship.

Less than two months previously Xhaka had suffered the ultimate humiliation when he was stripped of the captain’s armband by Unai Emery.

The fiery midfielder had reacted furiously to the Emirates crowd sarcastically cheering his substitution, hurling his shirt to the ground as he made his way down the tunnel and telling his detractors exactly where they could go.

He was even more unhappy with the perceived lack of support he received from the club in the immediate aftermath of that incident.

And even though Emery was sacked just six games later, Xhaka had already decided that he’d had enough.

He admits: “Mikel Arteta is the reason I’m still at this football club, because three seasons ago I was gone. My suitcases were packed and I was finished.

“But when Mikel was appointed I had a meeting with him because he wanted to hear my opinion about what had happened and I explained everything to him.

“I remember exactly how the conversation went. I told him ‘it has nothing to do with you’ because I didn’t know him and I’d never played with him.

“Obviously I knew his name, but not the person, and I said ‘I’m gone, I can’t wear this shirt any more’.

“And he said to me ‘give me a chance for six months and if you’re still not happy at the end of the season I’m the guy who will help you – not to run away, but to leave’.

“Normally I would speak with my family and my representatives before making any decision like that.

“But this time I said ‘OK, Mikel, I will stay for you’. And I’m still here.”

And not only is Xhaka still at Arsenal, but he is now one of the most important players at the club, even if he cringes at suggestions that he is now the senior statesman of the youngest squad in the Premier League.

He smiles: “English people make out like I’m a grandfather. I’m 29 man!

“But then I see the guys of 17 and 18 coming onto the training pitch and I sometimes feel like ‘f*** me…29’.

“For me, age is just a number. Whether you’re 18, 29 or over 35, all that matters is that you show yourself on the pitch.

“You only play if you deserve it and I give everyone respect and they give it to me.”

Xhaka was actually signed as Arteta’s midfield replacement when he was recruited by Arsene Wenger in a £30million deal from Borussia Moenchengladbach in the summer of 2016.

Now in his seventh season at the club, he says: “I have seen all the good things as well as all the bad stuff, although it was never as bad as people outside the club were saying

“Of course the group is a lot younger now. Before we had more experienced players but every player has his own character and I have a lot of good relationships with guys, no matter their age or nationality.

“I don’t believe a lot in the captain’s armband because everyone can see the leaders in the team and there are a lot of good people in this team who can speak with you.

“If anyone needs my help, they know I am always here, trying to assist with the experiences I’ve already had.

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