Comeback for Granit Xhaka on the cards, says Emery
Arsenal coach confident former captain can restore fans’ faith in his commitment to side
Granit Xhaka gestures to fans as he is substituted during Arsenal’s Premier League match against Crystal Palace at Emirates Stadium on October 27th. File photograph: David Klein/Reuters
Unai Emery has left the door open for Granit Xhaka to return to the Arsenal side, suggesting he may even consider the former captain for Saturday’s home match against Southampton.
It is a noticeable softening of stance from the manager, who said before the international break he did not know whether the midfielder would play for Arsenal again and admitted the club had discussed selling him in January. Xhaka, whose falling-out with a section of the club’s fans led to him being stripped of the armband, effectively ruled himself out of contention for the four matches preceding the international break. but Emery appears ready to offer him a comeback in the next run of fixtures.
“He is coming back better in his mind,” the manager said. “His mindset is better to help us and to be closer to playing when we need him. I spoke to him this morning and we had a very good conversation. He trained very well before the international break and he trained very well this morning.
“My objective is going to be [to use] his comeback to help us, and to convince every supporter of his commitment with us and [that] his performances will be better, and they will be proud of him in the long or short future with us.”
Pitching Xhaka into a match at the Emirates Stadium would seem a sizeable risk in the current climate, with Arsenal struggling for form and badly in need of three points from the league’s 19th-placed side. But Emery did not entirely rule out springing a surprise and involving the player in some capacity.
“We are going to decide tomorrow but I want to do that comeback, give him confidence and make him comfortable,” he said. “And when we can connect with our supporters with a good moment and a good performance, being strong with them.”
There were suggestions Arsenal had lined up José Mourinho to replace the under-pressure Emery
Emery reiterated the view that Xhaka – who was quoted this week in the Swiss media as saying he “can’t accept what has happened with me”– is committed to the club.
“He is feeling better and also feeling that his team is Arsenal now,” he said. “He wants to come back with confidence with the supporters, and we are going to decide. But I think, little by little, we can help him come back and connect with us and our supporters.”
Last month there were suggestions Arsenal had lined up José Mourinho to replace the under-pressure Emery, only for the club to publicly back their head coach and Mourinho to surface at Tottenham on Wednesday. Emery admitted he was taken aback by the news Spurs had sacked Mauricio Pochettino.
“I think it’s a surprise how it’s finishing, that relationship with Pochettino,” he said. “[Mourinho] is a very good coach. His career is very strong with the titles, with the experience. But I think also Pochettino’s work at Tottenham was amazing.
“Maybe in the last result, the last matches, they didn’t play or didn’t achieve the good results, but I think overall their way in the last years with Pochettino was perfect. And now, they decided to change. I don’t know why exactly the real reason is for doing that, but they have their way and we have our way and then we are going to battle in our moments.”