I made a throwaway reference yesterday to Xhaka’s Arsenal career having all the ups and downs of a Jason Bourne novel.
Dwelling on that idea later, I thought there might be more substance to it than I had realised so, based on the Bourne movies, here is the real story of Granit Xhaka.
The Xhaka Identity (2016)
A bewildered Xhaka is found floating in the canal at Camden Lock. He has no memory and his identity is a mystery, but he is taken to N5 and placed in the care of Arsenal. The team’s supporters are equally confused about his identity: is he the out-and-out defensive midfielder we have been craving, the new Gilberto? Some think so. Even his name is redolent of solidity and strength, granite being the hardest b*stard in the family of rocks. Other fans have heard he is a box to box playmaker in the Vieira mould. We wait with baited breath… and when Xhaka gets some game time the mystery only deepens. We remain unsure what he actually is, although we have gained one clue to his true identity – we have discovered his favourite hobbies: collecting red and yellow cards and diving feet first at any opposition player who happens to be passing by.
The Xhaka Supremacy (2018)
Xhaka’s true identity remains a mystery, but one person seems to know more than he’s letting on. That person is his handler, Arsene Wenger. While supporters question Xhaka’s actions and remain unsure as to what exactly he does for the team, Wenger continues to pick him for every game. Does Xhaka have some dirt on Wenger? Is the plot bigger than both of them? The drama continues.
The Xhaka Ultimatum (2019)
In a long-awaited plot twist Xhaka’s long-time handler, Arsene Wenger, is removed from the picture and a new handler is brought in. His name reads like a secret code scrambled through an Enigma machine: Unai Emery. Supporters hold their breath. Is this the end for our hero’s turbulent journey? Will he finally have to reveal his true identity (as a slightly leaden-footed journeyman best suited to a Swiss mid table side)? But no! It’s a case of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” and Xhaka is, once again, first name on the team sheet. But more is to come. There is a vacancy within The Agency (Arsenal FC to you). A new captain is needed. Unai Enigma is playing games within games and throws the decision onto the players themselves, telling them they must vote for their new captain. Of course, it’s a foregone conclusion: with a little manipulation, some mind games and a couple of strategic assassinations, Xhaka is a shoo-in for the job. But this is drama, and things change fast. Supporters are becoming increasingly frustrated with not knowing Xhaka’s true identity and it all comes to a head in a game against Crystal Palace. Xhaka is substituted (“de-activated”, to use the proper jargon), sulks and storms off. He is stripped of the armband and fans issue an ultimatum: never let that man play for us again. It seems the story is over. But…
The Xhaka Redemption (2021)
Somehow, somewhere, Xhaka survives. He stays in the shadows, emerging only occasionally to defend his actions on social media. Then his latest handler is brutally bumped off and a new Mr Big comes in, a man with plastic hair and a fierce demeanour. Surely the arrival of Mikel Arteta will mean the end of Xhaka? But no! Once again Xhaka is installed in the team and, bit by bit, his performances get better and better until here we are now. We supporters still have no idea of his true identity, yet somehow we all agree he should be in the starting line-up. Against all odds Granit Xhaka looks to have come out on top. But will he have the classic Hollywood Ending? For that, we’ll have to wait for the final movie in the series, still in production and due out in 2022…
The Xhaka Legacy (2022)
When Granit Xhaka goes back undercover, or hands in his weapon to the armourer for the final time (those boots that proved so lethal when diving in), we will be forced to confront his legacy. Who was he? What was he? Even at the time of writing his honours are impressive: two FA Cup winners’ medals, runners-up medals in the League Cup and Europa League, two-time FA Community Shield winner. But could the best be yet to come? Grab your popcorn and pull up a chair…