Name for me an Arsenal play whose reputation has plumbed the unfathomable depths that Granit Xhaka’s reputation has. Now, name for me an Arsenal player those reputation reached those depths and then rose to such heights. The redemption arc is real: from that 2019 nadir against Crystal Palace, when he was booed off the pitch. Few people recover from the setbacks he’s suffered. Having said all that, though, might this summer be the time to sell Xhaka?
Amid our pursuit of Moises Caicedo and Declan Rice, Xhaka’s advancing age (he’s 30 until he’s—ah, let’s bin that), and gossip from his wife, there may be no better time than this summer to sell. For as good as he’s been, it’s hard to commit to the idea that he’ll be as good as we’ll need if we’re to climb to the next level. If he’s willing to accept an Elneny-esque role, that’s one thing. Something tells me that a competitor and leader like him would not be compliant enough to play that role.
And that leads me to this: I’m not at all arguing that we should jettison him as deadwood. This is not an Andres Santos, Nicklas Bendtner, or Gervinho we’re talking about. If anything, his current situation reminds me of Sagna’s or Koscielny’s—devoted players who gave their all and who have earned greener pastures. The comparison is hardly exact; few comparisons ever are, but the point here is that he’s earned the right to determine his future. If he wants to start, and if his family want to move closer to home, there’s an easy solution that largely satisfies all parties.
This is a man who’s been made to crawl across shards of broken glass, trying to hold down a midfield ahead of a backline that included Sokratis, Luiz, Chambers, Holding, Kolašinac, Bellerin, and Mustafi while Jon Moss was red-carding him at every turn. Along the way, his midfield partners included Torreira and Elneny. That’s a tough road to hoe for a player who’s more of an 8 than a 6 (as shown by his performances this season alongside Partey). He’s not a world-class talent but he’s done everything he’s been asked to do to the best of his ability even when it was beyond that ability.
There’s been talk of a move to Bayer Leverkusen, who hardly have a record of splurging on transfers. Their record transfer fee was the princely sum of £28m paid in 2018 for Kerem Demirbay. Having joined us for £40m back in 2016, we might have to settle for half that (maybe less) given his age and Leverkusen’s finances. Still, if this is a move Xhaka desires, I feel like we should make it happen.
If nothing else, on a more-cynical level, his contracts ends June 2024. We may have to “prove” to targets such as Rice or Caicedo that they’ll feature, and selling Xhaka would not only free up some funds; it would also free up minutes on the pitch. Training and playing alongside a world-class DM like Thomas could prove invaluable to the development of a younger DM standing on the threshold of greatness.
On the other hand, it would add some lustre to see Xhaka hoisting a trophy or two a year from now (not that we’ve given up on doing so in a few weeks’ time). Few achievements complete a redemption arc like holding something shiny aloft in front of throngs of fans. Should Xhaka’s return to Germany come to pass, he might just have a chance at reprising Arteta’s role. We could do with someone who can inject some steel into spines.