So Granit Xhaka has been stripped of the captaincy and there are indications he will be allowed (or encouraged) to leave the club in January.
On the face of it, this is a pretty clear cut example of fan power claiming a scalp.
Some (perhaps many) supporters will celebrate that the Swiss international is now out of the team and probably on his way out of North London. I find the whole episode disturbing and not a little upsetting, as I’ll explain below.
Xhaka has never exactly been loved by the Arsenal faithful, although there have been periods when his play was at least somewhat approved of. But during last season and, particularly, in the current campaign he has been the focus of considerable discontent.
It’s not uncommon for individual players to become lightning rods when their team is going through a rough patch. In recent times at Arsenal, players including Mustafi, Ozil and Ramsey have all fulfilled that role.
But now, with the current season slipping into mediocrity and recrimination, Xhaka has been a lightning road in the eye of a rapidly growing thunderstorm. With hindsight, it’s not surprising he ended up burned.
It was a “victory” for fan power because it has been clear that Unai Emery (like Arsene Wenger before him) saw Granit Xhaka as an important component of his first team and had no desire to lose him in the short term.
This may be, as LB has suggested, because he is seen as the best option among those that are currently available rather than him being thought of as a world class star. But either way, Emery continued to pick Xhaka even as the social media cacophony for him to be axed grew louder and louder. Not only that, the head coach made him captain (after an admittedly bizarre process).
As we all know, everything came to a head when Xhaka was subbed off during the Crystal Palace game. When his number was held up some fans cheered ironically. Xhaka walked off slowly, to a chorus of boos and took off his shirt before heading straight down the tunnel.
This is why I see it as a “win” for fan power: the fans got their way. The persistent barrage of criticism about Xhaka no doubt weighed on Emery’s mind (as well as on the player’s). When things were going badly (again) for his team, Emery attempted to appease his critics by taking off the captain. The subsequent scenes cemented Xhaka’s place in the Arsenal departure lounge.
If there had not been a background of dissatisfaction with how Arsenal were performing under Emery I am sure he would not have substituted his captain. So “fan power” influenced his in-game decision making. Then the booing did the rest.
Frankly I hate this whole episode. My view of Xhaka is that he is a perfectly decent player in an underperforming team who is being asked to carry out a role that does not suit his skills, possibly in a league that does not suit his skills. But regardless of his footballing merits or otherwise I am appalled that our head coach bowed to fan pressure in this way.
If Emery thinks Xhaka should play every game he should stick to his guns and ignore the fans. Let’s face it, for all we like to think we know plenty about football, we know precious little compared to an experienced head coach who was won trophies at the highest level.
Is this how it going to be at Arsenal now? When the fans get on a player’s back the manager throws him to the lions?
And mark my words, there will be another lightning rod player after Xhaka unless the team suddenly starts displaying top-three form and crushing all opponents.
The whole carry-on has left me angry and depressed. No-one comes out of it well – not the fans who cheered when Xhaka’s number came up, or the ones who booed him off, not the player for his reaction, not the club for their handling of things and certainly not the manager for his apparent weakness.
I don’t want my club or its head coach to make decisions based on the latest scapegoating campaign by a noisy minority of supporters and social media blowhards. The Arsenal should be better than that.
It may well be that, as per the headline, the Xhaka situation makes it: “Fan Power 1, Xhaka 0.”
But there’s another scoresheet for this whole business and it goes like this: “Fan Power 1, Arsenal 0.” And that’s not good.