Granit Xhaka has explained in detail how close he came to leaving Arsenal during the 2019-20 season and revealed his desire to achieve “something special” at the club.
The Swiss international spoke at length to the Players Tribune about his heated exchange with the Gunners supporters two-and-a-half years ago during a match with Crystal Palace that saw him on the verge of signing for another club in the 2020 winter transfer window.
Xhaka had his bags packed and passport ready but the arrival of current boss Mikel Arteta – two months after he had been booed by Arsenal fans as he was substituted against Palace which saw the midfielder react angrily and throw his shirt to the floor – produced a sudden change of heart.
“I was done with Arsenal. Finished. There was a contract on the table from another club and all I had to do was sign. I had talked with my wife, Leonita, and we had decided to leave,” Xhaka told the Players Tribune.
“When Mikel was appointed in December, I told him that I wanted to leave. He understood completely. We had a second chat a few days later and when I went in, I had talked it through with my wife. Our suitcases were literally placed by the door.
“When I have made a decision like that, it is very difficult to change my mind. But then Mikel began to talk about how I was a big part of his plans. I liked his warmth. He was honest, straight. Clear plans. I felt I could trust him. He told me to give him six months to prove me wrong and then if I still wanted to leave, no problem.”
Xhaka had been stripped of the captaincy after his stand-off with supporters at the Emirates but was able to become a key figure again under Arteta and subsequently played his part in the club’s FA Cup success later in 2020.
A year down the line and the midfielder would sign a new deal to remain at Arsenal until the summer of 2024 and, while he acknowledges his relationship with the fanbase will never be the same, he is positive about the future.
“I can’t pretend that my relationship with the fans will ever be the same, because that moment will always be in my heart. It’s like broken glass, you know? You can piece it together, but the cracks will always be there,” Xhaka added.
“My challenge was never to change people’s opinions about me, but to help the team. And then after that, if someone did change their mind because of that, then great.
“I understand that we will never be best friends, but I hope we can treat each other with honesty and respect. I want you to know that whatever I do on the pitch, it comes from the right place.
“If I am late in a tackle, it’s because I’m fighting for Arsenal. If I lose my temper, it’s because I care. Sometimes, maybe I care too much.
“Obviously you can never predict the future in football, but I do know a few things. After this season, I have two years left of my contract. I still love this club. I believe Mikel is building a great team. And I want to achieve something special here.”