Long read: Xhaka on past, present and future

Granit Xhaka

Ahead of last weekend's Emirates Cup match against Sevilla, our official matchday programme caught up with Granit Xhaka for a wide-ranging interview.

Our Swiss midfielder was in great form as he evaluated pre-season and the newcomers to Mikel Arteta's squad, and discussed his relationship with our supporters, as well as his hopes for the season.

Here are the best bits:

Sevilla have great European pedigree, how much will it benefit playing them before going back into European football this year?

It’s a big, big test for us. And it’s only a few days before we play against Palace away, but it will be totally different to the Palace game. Sevilla is a team that play more with the ball, try to keep hold of the ball – a typical Spanish team. But that’s something as well we can improve, to see how they do it as well, will be very good for us.

There are plenty of new additions this season, let’s talk through the ones you’ve got to know so far, starting with Matt Turner...

It’s very good to have the new signings, we're very open – not only with Matt but the other new signings as well. He fits very well in this team and I’m looking forward to seeing him and the others in the next months and years.

And Fabio Vieira, have you spoken to him yet?

Of course, we sit together as well at dinner, he’s very open, he’s a funny guy. I haven’t seen a lot on the pitch yet of course because of injury. But we know him from the past. Of course, he has quality and let’s see when he’s fit what he can give the team.

And Gabriel Jesus, you will know from the Premier League, how excited are you that he’s joined us?

It’s very exciting. First of all I love his attitude, his hunger to achieve something, to win something. He’s come from a team who have already won everything, and he gives us the hunger, the belief and the quality. But as well he’s a very humble guy. Very open, you can be serious with him, you can joke with him. This is what we need at this football club.

Granit Xhaka and Gabriel Jesus

What has he been like in training?

He’s a very high-quality player, very quick, very sharp. He’s not scared to go in for a 50-50 ball. With him and Eddie now up front we have two guys who can be very dangerous for the opponent. He's scored already in the friendlies, hopefully he can keep doing that.

And finally young Marquinhos, what have you made of him so far?

He reminds me of Gabi Martinelli when he first came, everyone was saying ‘yeah he will go to the under-23s first’ and stuff like this, but how Gabi adapted at this level was unbelievable, and I have the same feeling with Marquinhos as well. For his age he is very developed physically, very fast, good left foot. Of course, he needs to adapt to this level first, this country as well, but I see a big future for this guy.

The new signings can hopefully help us push on from last season, when we had many highs, but some lows as well. How would you sum up the season as a whole?

Yeah, in the end we didn't achieve what we wanted. We had everything in our hands. That's why we were very, very disappointed of course but it's over, we can't change anything, what we can change is the future and the future started in the pre-season, which included those new signings who are doing a very good job already, very good with their team-mates, very open, very humble. They know what they want and we try to help them and I'm looking forward to start the season.

One of the highs from last season certainly for fans and yourself would have been your ‘Xhaka boom!’ against Manchester United. How does that rank among your best moments in an Arsenal shirt?

Yeah, after what happened, everything between the fans, the people and me I think this was one of the nicest moments since I'm in this football club. After scoring as well, the feedback, the moment in the stadium, I felt very good, very happy. But as well, happy for the three points we got on that day.

Granit Xhaka scores against Manchester United

You mentioned the fans, you spoke a little bit last season about your relationship with Arsenal fans, how's it been since then for you?

Very good, I always wanted to turn things around to be good with them. I always respected the people. There was a moment where both of us maybe were misunderstanding each other but this is over for me. I feel much, much more love from the people outside and my job is to give them something back on the pitch. They know how I am. I give every time 100 per cent for this football club, sometimes well, sometimes less, but the love I feel at the moment is very, very good.

You obviously thought it was important to get your message across to Arsenal fans. Why was it so crucial to have your say?

It came from inside me. Something from maybe two years ago, but as well for the future. For me, I am nearly 30 now and it was important to speak out not just for me but also for the future for the young players we have here, who are 19, 20, 21 years old. I hope nobody will share this experience that I had, and to tell the fans as well that it’s not that easy.

It’s not the best way to do something against a player, and maybe this message came across as well. To support us – how do I say it – every one of us gives everything to this football club. Sometimes it’s going well, sometimes less. But to support us to help us, to be with us. Because what we want is for this football club to achieve as much as possible. Every one of us wants this. 

Mikel Arteta will have supported you through that process of speaking to fans. How important has he been, and your relationship with him over the last few seasons?

I mean it’s not possible to describe in words, and to say thank you to him. Because, as you say – he was always supporting me. I tried always to give him as well, something back. I feel very happy, and feel like I’m at home here as well. Not only to Mikel, but to the teammates to the staff, to the club. I want to give them something back. I try that day-by-day, and of course when you have people around to support you, to help you. It’s much easier to do that.

As one of the senior players in the team, what’s your relationship like with Mikel off the field?

Very good. Very honest, very open. This is how I am myself as well, and he is the same. He wants to have that clarity, I always have an open conversation with the coach.

Granit Xhaka and Mikel Arteta

How much of a role do you play in supporting Mikel, integrating new players, and in the dressing room?

I think it’s not only me, but other players have a lot of experience. Of course the coach, he is there with us in the dressing room, on the pitch. Sometimes he’s not there as well, so it’s our job as experienced players to get the team together. To tell that we have to believe in ourselves because we have a very young squad. But the youngsters they are listening to us, they are trying as well to use the words that we give to them, to improve, and I have the feeling that we are in a very good way.

The Premier League season is fast approaching. What can this Arsenal team achieve this season?

The signings that we made give us something more than winning, they give us the mentality of how to win and the quality, of course. It’s like a puzzle, you need the quality, of course, but if it doesn’t fit in with the team, it’s very difficult to achieve something. The signings all fit very well in the team, year by year we get much better. It’s easier to speak than to do it, for sure, but I have a very good feeling that we will be ready for the start against Crystal Palace away and let’s see and hope that we can achieve the goals that we have.

Does it feel slightly strange ahead of the new season knowing that there’s a World Cup in the middle of it? How much does that affect your preparation and how you go into the new season?

Of course, it will be something special, the World Cup. But if I’m honest, I’m not thinking one second about the World Cup, because it’s still another four or five months to go. My focus is totally here and then when the time comes for the World Cup, of course it’s different, but maybe it’s not so bad for us Premier League players because at the end of the season I think we are more tired than other leagues because we have so many games, but let’s see. It’s very special, the World Cup in winter, for the first time and I’m looking forward to that.

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