Xhaka not afraid of return of Arsenal fans despite online abuse

The 28-year-old midfielder told fans to “f**k off” as they jeered him following his substitution during a draw with Crystal Palace last season.

Xhaka was stripped of the captaincy by then-head coach Unai Emery as a result and it appeared he had no future at the club.

That changed when Mikel Arteta was appointed in December 2019, although Xhaka has continued to split the opinion of supporters ever since he joined Arsenal five years ago.

The Switzerland international was sent off in a 1-0 loss to Burnley in December in what was one of only two games at the Emirates Stadium to have 2,000 spectators in attendance.

But Xhaka wants to welcome fans back, with the potential for a 10,000-strong crowd for Arsenal’s final Premier League game of the season at home to Brighton.

Asked if he has been happier playing in front of no crowds, Xhaka replied: “Not really, I’m not a guy who is scared or afraid to play in front of our fans – never, ever.

“I love the club and I respect the people around the team as well. I wish we could play with the fans because they would push us more and more and more.

“But the situation is what it is and hopefully things will change as quickly as possible to have the fans back and work together, to see we are improving and we want to take the next step as a club – this is what I wish.”

While playing in empty stadiums has prevented any potential verbal abuse aimed at Xhaka, he has not escaped the recent swathe of social media posts targeting footballers.

Xhaka received racist abuse from several accounts, including some which identified as Arsenal supporters and season-ticket holders.

He believes such abuse is damaging the sport and called for his wife and young child to be spared from any abuse.

“It is one of many (examples) if I am honest,” Xhaka replied when asked about the latest post.

“If I showed the others what they write, I think I have to close my social media, everyone has to close social media.

“I say that before and I will say that now and in the future as well, it is only about me. I am the guy who is on the pitch.

“It is not my wife, it is not my little one, it is not my family. So if you want to criticise someone, no problem to criticise me like a person, like a player.

“But don’t make the other people involved because they have nothing to do with my job. Secondly, I have a lot of help from the club because this is something we have to speak very openly about.

“You don’t have to be quiet and say: ‘Yeah, I keep it with me’, because it is not always easy. But the club was here for me, for my family. They helped me, I was very open with the guys here and if you have people around you, who help you, it is very, very important.

“The problem is only if you lose, then it is a problem. It is not a problem when you win.

“ If you lose, everyone hates you, everyone is writing you things like…it is not possible to understand how they can write something like this you know.

“I wish I could meet the people who write me the things, to sit with them, eyes by eyes and to ask them, ‘why are you writing things like this?’

“This is not acceptable. So you have to open our eyes and to look after this a lot, because I think you kill the football like this if the people start to speak about a player or their families or things like this.”

When asked about those supposed Arsenal fans who had sent abusive messages, Xhaka was defiant in his response.

“They are not supporters of my club. I do not see them as supporters of my club – to support the club they have to be here if we lose, we draw or we win,” he added.

“Of course, you can criticise and say what you want about football – but not about the person, not about the family. I think this is two pairs of shoes, about the footballer and the person.

“But if one guy is a ticket holder at the club and speaks like this about his own players I don’t think he needs respect from our side or other people.”

The PA news agency understands Arsenal will ban any individual who holds a membership for the club if they are found to have posted abuse online.

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Arsenal cruise to 4-2 Premier League win over Leeds

Mikel Arteta’s side have leapfrogged the Whites to move back into the Top Ten as their returning skipper Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fired home a superb hat trick.

Neither team could really get a grip of it early on as Aubameyang’s touch of class edged the Gunners in front.

Granit Xhaka’s pass freed him inside the box and he measured a perfect curler past Illan Meslier.

That strike did open things up before the break, as Jack Harrison tested Bernd Leno, but a quickfire Arsenal double put them three up before half time.

Meslier’s casualness saw him concede a penalty on Bukayo Saka, which Aubameyang confidently slotted home, before Spaniard Hector Bellerin forced in Dani Ceballos’ flick.

And the Gunners weren’t finished there as Aubameyang headed home his third of the day within seconds of the restart.

But with nothing to lose in the final half hour, Leeds did come roaring back into as Pascal Struijk headed home a corner and Helder Costa slid home to break some life into it.

However, Arsenal could and should have increased their advantage in the closing stages as Aubameyang and Saka fired against the woodwork and Meslier smartly denied Martin Odegaard.

Full Time from the Emirates Stadium it’s Arsenal 4 Leeds United 2

Aston Villa edge out Arsenal in vital 1-0 Premier League win

Dean Smith’s side now have three wins in their last five as Ollie Watkins early strike was enough to see off the Gunners.

Villa have made a habit of fast starts in recent weeks and the in-form Watkins powered them ahead inside the first two minutes.

Bertrand Traore’s persistence forced an error from Cedric Soares on the edge of the box and his low ball was scuffed by Watkins.

But that early strike failed to really spark either side into life with Granit Xhaka’s free kick the only test for Emiliano Martinez.

And with the visitors unable to pick up any steam after the break it was debutant Mat Ryan who was called into action to deny Watkins a second.

But with a stark lack of cutting edge from Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal, it was Villa that almost wrapped it up late on, as Ryan produced a superb stop to deny Jack Grealish.

Full Time on a big day for the home side at Villa Park it’s Aston Villa 1 Arsenal 0

Premier League: Southampton v Arsenal

Of the two games already played between the sides this season, Saints are yet to lose to Mikel Arteta’s side, drawing the league game back in December, before knocking the Gunners out of the FA Cup at the weekend, thanks to an own goal from Gabriel.

The fact that Southampton won the game courtesy of an own goal is a sign of one of their recent struggles, having only scored two goals in their last six league games. Speaking of goals, Danny Ings’ future has became a talking point this month, with the England striker mentioning his ambition to play for a club in Europe – a subject Ralph Hassenhuttl has handled shrewdly, challenging him to score enough goals to fire Southampton there rather than seek a transfer.

Arsenal’s improvement since the turn of the year sees them going into this game knowing that a win will take them above Saints and into the top half of the Premier League for the first time in months. They’ll be hoping the form of Emile Smith-Rowe and Bukayo Saka can help them get there, as the pair of youngsters have been integral to the Gunners’ recent improvement.

The signing of Martin Odegaard should be complete in time for the game, but the Norwegian playmaker won’t be involved after joining until the end of the season from Real Madrid. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed the FA Cup game at the weekend due to a personal issue, and is likely to miss out again.
Dani Ceballos is struggling with a calf injury and is rated 50/50, meaning a midfield partnership of Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey is expected from the start.

Things are worse for Southampton on the injury front, with ten first-teamers struggling with various issues. Jannik Vestergaard, Ryan Bertrand, Kyle Walker-Peters, Oriol Romeu, Moussa Djenepo, Michael Obafemi, Nathan Tella, Mohamed Salisu and Will Smallbone are all definitely missing. Nathan Redmond will be in the squad despite not being fully fit after injury.

If a patched-up Saints can get a win, they could move as high as sixth in the table ahead of another midweek fixture list, and ensure that the gap between themselves and the bottom half remains a healthy five points.

Southampton take on Arsenal at St Mary’s on Tuesday, January 26th. Kick-off is at 8.15pm.

Premier League: Arsenal 3-1 Chelsea

Alexandre Lacazette converted a penalty before Granit Xhaka’s superb free-kick doubled Arsenal’s lead just ahead of the break.

Chelsea, looking to stay hot on the heels of the chasing pack, were caught out again after 56 minutes when Bukayo Saka clipped home a third.

Mohamed Elneny drilled a fierce effort against the crossbar before Chelsea pulled a goal back after 85 minutes through Tammy Abraham, who was ruled onside by VAR after initially being flagged offside.

Gunners keeper Bernd Leno produced a fine save from Jorginho’s penalty in stoppage time as Arsenal closed out a first league win since beating Manchester United away at the start of November.

Before kick-off, the Gunners announced defender Gabriel was set to miss the next three matches due to self-isolation after being flagged as a close contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19.

Brazilian duo David Luiz and Willian were said to be “unwell”, but both recently returned negative tests.

The result sees The Gunners climb to 14th in the table whilst Frank Lampard’s Chelsea drop to 6th.

Premier League Preview: Arsenal v Chelsea

The Gunners host local rivals Chelsea on Boxing Day and defeat could see them slide right down into the drop zone.

But it’s not all bad news for the Spanish coach ahead of this tie, with club captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s return offering a welcome boost.

Swiss international Granit Xhaka is also back for this one but whether or not that’s a good thing remains a conundrum for Arteta.

As for Chelsea, Frank Lampard’s side looked back to their slick best against West Ham and he could go for a largely unchanged line up.

The only real issue for him appears to be at full back with Reece James and Ben Chilwell both out.

Skipper Cesar Azpilicueta is set to keep his place as James’ replacement on the right with Emerson drafted in to cover at left back.

And it’s all good to go under the Tier 4 lights at 5.30pm on Boxing Day at the Emirates Stadium.

Premier League: Everton v Arsenal

Last weekend saw the return of fans to Goodison for the first time this season thanks to Liverpool being named in a Tier 2 area, and the 2,000 spectators watched on as Carlo Ancelotti downed his former side Chelsea 1-0 thanks to Gylfi Sigurdsson’s penalty.

Arsenal’s week didn’t go so well though, as they picked up just a point from their games against Southampton and Burnley, going down to ten men both times. As a result, both Granit Xhaka and Gabriel will miss out.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang did manage to score against Saints, and will be hoping he can kickstart a goal scoring run which is desperately needed if Arsenal are to start moving up the table.

The Gunners will go into the game 15th in the table, with bottom half rivals Fulham and Newcastle playing just after the final whistle goes on Saturday night.

Ancelotti may welcome back Seamus Coleman for the visit of the Gunners, after the Irishman missed the last three games with a thigh injury. The Everton captain was left out of the win over Leicester on Wednesday night as a precaution, so should start, but James Rodriguez is unlikely to return after a calf injury.

Lucas Digne is still missing with an ankle injury and won’t return until the end of January, and will be joined on the sidelines by Allan, who was stretchered off after 41 minutes at the King Power in the week. Jean-Philippe Gbamin and Fabian Delph will also miss out.

Arsenal, on top of their suspension worries, will welcome back Hector Bellerin from a ban and have mostly the same group that played against Southampton available, after no new injuries. David Luiz may return after his head injury suffered against Wolves.

Thomas Partey is still out after taking a knock in the defeat to Spurs, while Gabriel Martinelli played 45 minutes of an under-21 game last week and is targeting January as a potential comeback date.

If Everton manage to make it three wins on the spin, they could go as high as second in the table ahead of the rest of the weekend’s fixtures. Arsenal arguably need the win more though, and what better place to get it than somewhere Arteta spent six years as a player.

Everton take on Arsenal at Goodison Park on Saturday, December 19th. Kick-off is at 5.30pm.

Premier League: Arsenal vs Southampton

The Gunners have usually been in excellent form in midweek games this season, winning all six of their Europa League fixtures, but woeful against Premier League opposition, losing four of their last five league games as pressure mounts on Arteta.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has scored more goals against Arsenal at the Emirates than for them so far this season, but will continue to be relied upon as Southampton visit the capital.

Granit Xhaka will be suspended after ridiculously getting sent off against Burnley on Sunday for grabbing Ashley Westwood around the neck. Whether or not that improves the Gunners’ chances of a result remains to be seen.

Arteta will definitely be without Thomas Partey with a thigh injury, while Nicolas Pepe is also suspended. Reiss Nelson has a chance of returning after a head injury, but Sead Kolasinac is unlikely to make the squad.

David Luiz will be assessed after missing the 1-0 defeat to Burnley with the after effects of a concussion injury sustained in that horrific clash with Raul Jimenez, while the game will come too soon for Gabriel Martinelli, who has stepped up his recovery from an ACL injury in the past week.

As for Southampton, Ralph Hassenhuttl has a fully fit squad to choose from, which seems entirely in keeping with everything going well at St Mary’s at the minute.

Danny Ings and Nathan Redmond are both available after injuries recently, and the pair combined for Saints’ third goal against Sheffield United at the weekend.

A win for Hassenhuttl could send Southampton top of the table for the second time this season, albeit for a maximum of two hours as Liverpool and Spurs play at Anfield ten minutes after the full-time whistle goes at the Emirates.

Arsenal need a win to affect things at the other end of the table, as they bid to pull themselves away from a relegation battle that is starting to tighten up.

Defeat coupled with a win for Brighton could send the Gunners as low as 16th, while a much-needed win could see them leapfrog Leeds United into 14th and stop the rot.

Arsenal take on Southampton at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday, December 16th. Kick-off is at 6pm

Arsenal suffer damaging 1-0 defeat at home to Burnley

This result will only ramp up the growing pressure on Arteta in the weeks ahead as the Spaniard has picked up just one league win in two months.

The Gunners struggled to get into any sort of rhythm in the first half as Rob Holding nodded over and Alexandre Lacazette brilliantly tested Nick Pope.

Arteta looked to have rattled a few cages during the break at the Emirates as Pope was called into quick action to deny Bukayo Saka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

But just as the hosts looked to be edging themselves towards breakthrough, Granit Xhaka’s brain fart derailed their efforts.

The Swiss international tangled with Ashley Westwood before losing his head and grabbing the Clarets man by the throat as Graham Scott flashed a red card.

Arsenal looked to cling on from there as Burnley smelt blood in the closing stages.

But it wasn’t to be as Arteta’s miserable was completed as Aubameyang flicked home from a corner………….but unfortunately for the Gunners skipper it was at the wrong end.

Full Time at the Emirates Stadium it’s Arsenal 0 Burnley 1

Manchester City clinch narrow 1-0 win over Arsenal

Raheem Sterling’s first half strike proved to be the difference between the two sides as Pep Guardiola got revenge for City’s FA Cup semi-final defeat in July.

City enjoyed the bulk of possession in the opening stages as Arsenal set their stall out to counter at pace.

But with the Gunners struggling to cope as City went up through the gears Sterling tucked home brilliant opener.

Riyad Mahrez’s pass cut out three Arsenal defenders and after Bernd Leno could only parry Phil Foden’s effort, Sterling pounced on the rebound.

That gave the impetus to City and Leno had to be at his sharpest to deny Mahrez and Foden.

However, Arsenal worked hard to stay in the game before the break as new England international Bukayo Saka brought an instinctive stop from Ederson.

The Gunners looked to take advantage of City’s struggles to find a second after the restart as Nicolas Pepe tested Ederson.

Mikel Arteta’s side bossed the closing stages with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Granit Xhaka both testing Ederson but in the end the home side have enough to hold on for the win.

FULL TIME AT THE ETIHAD STADIUM IT’S MANCHESTER CITY 1 ARSENAL 0

Liverpool see off unambitious Arsenal at Anfield.

Sadio Mane, Andy Robertson and Diogo Jota, on his home debut, all scored after Alexandre Lacazette had been gifted the opener after a Robertson error.

If the France international’s finish from Arsenal’s first shot on target in the 25th minute was not that convincing his performance in two second-half one-on-ones – one latterly flagged offside – with Alisson Becker was even less so and his misses will have left Mikael Arteta wondering what night have been on a wet Monday night in Anfield.

Liverpool dominated however and had 21 shots on goal compated to their opponents 4 and in truth looked very comfortable beofre Diogo Jota marked his debut with a late goal on the 88th minute.

Arsenal, with David Luiz restored to a back three and two holding midfielders in Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka, seemed in no mood to take the game to their hosts as Premier League newcomers Leeds had so thrillingly done on the opening weekend of the season.

Instead they sat back, rarely engaging as Liverpool played out from the defence, in the hope of hitting on the break.

There was a touch of fortune rather than thought about the Gunners opener with a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s over-hit cross mis-controlled by Andy Roberson into the path of Lacazette.

The France international also mis-kicked his shot but he succeeded in bouncing it into the floor and agonisingly over the outstretched arm of Alisson.

However, if Arteta was hoping to hold on to that lead his plan was dashed after 147 seconds as Leno parried Mohamed Salah’s shot and Mane pounced for the equaliser.

Seven minutes later Liverpool were ahead as yet another Alexander-Arnold cross found its target in the penalty area, this time his opposite full-back Robertson making amends for his earlier error by controlling on his chest and poking home.

The final word was left to Liverpool’s new signing Jota, on as a late substitute, who finally put the match to bed two minutes from time when he seized a weak David Luiz header, controlling and firing low into the Kop net having earlier wasted a better chance with only Leno to beat.

Liverpool are now joint top of the League with Leicester and Everton with the final score at Anfield Liverpool 3 – Arsenal 1.