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'Without any consequences, you can now stir up hatred' - Xhaka opens up on loss of Arsenal captaincy

The former Gunners skipper spoke of social media ‘s**t storms’ and fan abuse in an interview with a Swiss newspaper.

Granit Xhaka.
Granit Xhaka.
Image: EMPICS Sport

GRANIT XHAKA MAY have been stripped of the Arsenal captaincy due to his public run-in with the club’s fans but he says he will be staying and fighting for his place in the team.

The volatile 27-year-old Swiss international midfielder has not played since he mouthed an obscenity at a section of Gunners fans jeering him when he was substituted in the Premier League match with Crystal Palace a fortnight ago.

However, despite manager Unai Emery deciding he could not carry on as skipper — a role he was given after a secret ballot of the players — he told Swiss newspaper Blick he would not be leaving.

Xhaka has had a fractious relationship with Arsenal supporters since his arrival from Bundesliga outfit Borussia Moenchengladbach in 2016, costing the Premier League side a fee reported to be £38 million ($49 million), and in an in-depth interview, he took aim at his online critics’ vitriol while pledging his allegiance to the North London club.

arsenal-training-session-london-colney Xhaka watched on by Unai Emery. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

“You could say things have been a bit frantic,” Xhaka said. “Last week, in particular, was a very special emotional experience for me. But I’m doing very well again, I’ve trained well this week and am looking forward to my next assignments — in the club and of course on the national team.

“Some of my team-mates came to see me and I thought that was great. They encouraged me to not let it get me down. And above all they pointed out how many Arsenal fans around the world didn’t like the way the fans reacted in the stadium and condemned it.

When my shirt number lit up on the fourth official’s panel and our own fans broke into gleeful jubilation, that hit me very hard and really upset me. It was very hurtful and frustrating.

“I can’t understand a reaction like that even now, especially the vehemence of it and the extreme hostility directed against me. I don’t mean to say that I can’t take criticism. If the team and I don’t play well, we must listen and work on it.

“But insulting and swearing at your own captain will cause upset and a bad atmosphere for the team you are actually supposed to be supporting.

“That makes no sense to me and weakens the team’s spirit.

eintracht-frankfurt-v-arsenal-uefa-europa-league-group-f-commerzbank-arena Xhaka and Bukayo Sako. Source: EMPICS Sport

“You can be sure that I’ll keep fighting and putting myself out there in every training session,” Xhaka continued.

“I feel last week has been dealt with and I’m ready.”

Xhaka, who has been linked with a move to struggling Newcastle in the January transfer window, said the boos and jeers has not altered his views of the city of London or his club but did elaborate on the abuse he had been receiving on social media, reiterating that his emotions were running high because his daughter had been the subject of some of that abuse.

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He did not spare those dishing out that abuse, either.

“For me, my [social media] platforms offer the chance to let my fans be a part of my athletic career and my private life, to ‘follow’ me in the truest sense,” he said. “What used to be fan mail is now much more up-to-date and closer to life due to Instagram and all the rest. I think that’s really great. But this opportunity is also a double-edged sword, as I have now learned.

There really are people who make a hobby out of insulting people every day. This even goes so far as to be criticised for things you haven’t even done. People are abusing me because of the way I played last weekend, but I wasn’t even on the pitch. It’s insane!

“What began as a ‘bulletin board’ for friends is increasingly becoming a forum for people who want to insult others. Without any consequences, you can now stir up hatred against private individuals or people in the public sphere such as musicians, actors or also athletes if an opinion or a performance isn’t to your liking. The rules of common decency and respect are obviously no longer valid for a lot of people!

What has changed through social media are phenomena such as ‘shit storms’ that can over-run you from one minute to the next. Also new is the cloak of anonymity you can use to attack players without fear of consequences.

“Everyone should practice respect and decency towards their fellow human beings and use criticism correctly, regardless of status or income. And if I get constructive criticism or even more vehement insults, I try to take them calmly and objectively. As I said: if we perform badly, you have to put up with it. I know that all too well from Basel and also from Mönchengladbach.

“But what happened here is abnormal and excessive and there can be no justification for it.”

You can read Xhaka’s full interview with Blick here.

- © AFP 2019

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