This story first appeared in the July 2016 edition of the Arsenal Magazine.
With the smile still on the lips of Arsenal fans following the final day thrust into a second place Premier League finish, they had further reason to grin on May 25 when the club announced they had reached an agreement with Granit Xhaka to join the club.
Not renowned for completing transfer business early in the summer race to recruit, the Gunners pounced quickly – and for good reason. Captain of Bundesliga outfit Borussia Monchengladbach with a reputation for being an an astute yet uncompromising midfielder and a natural leader, the 23 year-old Swiss international was one of the hottest midfield prospects on the continent and had been linked to numerous other grandees of the game before plumping for a life in north London.
“Granit is an exciting young player, already with good Champions League and Bundesliga experience,” said his new boss Arsène Wenger, before confirming: "We have been watching him for a long time now and he is a player who will add quality to our squad.”
After arriving at London Colney for the obligatory photoshoot and look around the impressive training facilities, Granit sat down with the Arsenal Media Group to talk about the influences on his career so far and the exciting prospect of playing for Arsenal.
Granit, welcome to Arsenal. How does it feel to be an Arsenal player?
I am very happy to be here. It’s a dream come true and I’m happy.
You’ve said before that England is your dream and you have not hidden that fact. Why is it so important for you to play here?
I remember I was young and the first game I watched was in the Premier League. It’s a big dream for me and now that I’m here I am very, very happy.
What do you like most about Arsenal?
I like so much. I like the style of football [in the Premier League]. It’s aggressive and I like the way Arsenal play football. It’s not like other countries but it’s very, very nice here.
You say it’s aggressive, and every game in the Premier League is a fight…
Yes, it’s a fight. I like that but Arsenal can also play football and that’s very good.
Is the Premier League similar to the Bundesliga in many ways?
I don’t think it’s the same. In Germany you can play aggressively but the referee will always blow his whistle, but in England that’s not the case. That’s better for me.
How would you describe your playing style?
I like to play football. I’m an aggressive player and also a leader. I’m only 23 but I captained a good team in Germany.
Ottmar Hitzfeld says you’re like a young Bastian Schweinsteiger…
If Ottmar Hitzfeld says that then it’s a big compliment. Ottmar is a big coach and a good gentleman. I don’t know if I’m a young Schweinsteiger, I’m another player. I am Granit Xhaka.
How much did being captain at Borussia Monchengladbach help you become a leader?
When I was younger, even though I had a big brother, my parents would give me the house key every day. It’s in my head that I am a leader and captaining Monchengladbach was very good for me.
Arsenal finished second last season. Do you feel as though they’re on the cusp of great things?
Of course. I’ve looked at Arsenal before, on every weekend, and I know they are a big club. This year they finished second and that was a very good season.
Could they finish first next year?
I hope so!
Granit, a former Gladbach team-mate, Havard Nordtveit, played for Arsenal as well. Have you spoken to him about this club?
Of course. I spoke with him about Arsenal and he told me it’s a big club, a family club and it’s very important for me to come here.
Johan Djourou and Philippe Senderos were also Swiss players who played for Arsenal…
Yes Philippe played here and I play with him in the national team. Johan and Philippe have only told me positive things.
What are the positive things they have told you?
It’s a big club. Arsenal is Arsenal. It’s not a small club, it’s a very big club and it’s like a family. It’s very good for me because I love my family and to have another family here is very good.
Arsenal’s midfield could feature two former Basel midfielders in yourself and Mohamed Elneny. You must know a lot about him…
I know him by name, but when I went to Monchengladbach he came to Basel. My brother played with him and I had heard of him before I came here.
There are lots of Swiss players in the Premier League such as Inler, Behrami and Shaqiri. It’s a big time for Swiss football…
Yes, in Switzerland we produce very good young players and many of these players have come to England. That’s very good.
Looking at your early life, what are your first memories of football?
For me it is a dream. Every day I worked hard at a small club and to now be at a big club like Arsenal is a dream come true. I am so happy. It’s difficult to say anything now because it’s a dream come true.
When you were young, which footballers would you watch and admire?
I think Zidane. He was a perfect player. Patrick Vieira was here and he is also a legend, he was such a good player.
What was so good about Zidane and Vieira?
They both played very good football and were very aggressive. In Vieira’s case he might have been a bit too aggressive but he was still a very good player. Zidane was a gentleman on the pitch.
What’s been the best moment of your career so far?
I think it was a game against Manchester United for Basel. We played in Manchester and drew 3-3, then we played at home and won 2-1 to knock Manchester United out and progress to the next round. It’s not just this one, though. I had another good moment at the World Cup in Brazil, which was my first World Cup, and I will play in my first European Championships.
What was the feeling after the Manchester United game?
It was big. Basel were a smaller club than Manchester United and to beat them 2-1 was a very nice moment.
Can you tell us something about yourself that we might not know?
I’m a young player with a wife. I’m not a player who goes out too much because I’m a family guy and I love my family. I also have a brother who is a very close friend.
Apart from football, what are you good at?
I play ping pong very well. In Germany I didn’t have anywhere or anyone to play against, so maybe I will have that here.
Is that something you did when you were younger?
I played with my brother and he was very good, but I think now I am a little bit better.
Are you ready to play ping pong against the Arsenal players?
I think so.
You scored against France in the World Cup. Tell us about that…
It was my first World Cup goal. We lost 5-2 so it was not good, but I hope that we can beat France in the Euros.
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