Granit Xhaka reacted badly to Arsenal fans sarcastically cheering his substitution on Sunday, but was it enough to see him stripped of the captaincy?
To run over the series of events, Arsenal had taken a 2-0 lead against Crystal Palace just to blow it before the hour mark. A few minutes after the equalising goal, with frustrations running high, Unai Emery decided to substitute off Granit Xhaka.
Xhaka had been partially at fault for the equalising goal, though he hadn’t had a poor game in general. Nonetheless, the angry Arsenal fans vented their frustrations with a loud cheer when his name was announced.
Despite how the incident is being framed in the media, this cheer wasn’t immediately followed by boos and jeers, in fact, there was a very small ripple of applause initially.
When Xhaka threw the armband to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and didn’t start running off the pitch, then the angry shouts started to ring out. As someone who was in the crowd that day, those around me were mostly shouting things like “get on with it” and “why is he walking?”, with a few extra expletives.
Xhaka’s response was to egg the crowd on, and they duly obliged with further jeers. At that point, the boos started to ring out as well.
Clearly incensed by the fan reaction, Xhaka took off his shirt, though he at least had the presence of mind not to throw it aside. That gesture certainly could have seen his captaincy immediately removed.
As it is, the captaincy issue is simply “under consideration“. Where we go from here is anybody’s guess.
Maybe he’ll have the role taken from him, maybe he’ll issue an apology and keep it, maybe he’ll step down himself, maybe the club will just try to brush the issue under the rug and carry on.
Whether he actually deserves to have the captaincy taken away is another matter.
The point I keep coming back to in my thinking is that I’m not sure another player doing the same thing would inspire the same response.
If Aubameyang had a terrible game where he missed a few major chances and Arsenal were losing, then he reacted the same way Xhaka did yesterday as a one-off incident, would he have the captaincy taken away? I’m not sure.
It does seem like most people are certain Xhaka has to lose the armband because they didn’t want him to have it in the first place.
Don’t misunderstand, Xhaka’s reaction was certainly not one befitting of a captain, but it’s one brought on by many weeks and months of constant abuse from fans just for failing to be as good at football as they think he should be.
The sarcastic cheers were the straw that broke that camel’s back, they weren’t the sole cause of his anger. The preceding months and how badly the game was going surely also played a huge part.
For the most part, Xhaka has dealt with all of that outside pressure very well. He’s been willing to front up for the media after a defeat or a mistake, he’s previously ignored cases of boos and sarcastic cheers for his substitutions, and he’s rarely said anything against the fans publicly. The squad clearly consider him one of the leaders in the group as well, voting him in as captain in the first place.
The midfielder lashed out thoughtlessly in a particularly hurtful moment for him and the team, but it’s not as if he wasn’t provoked into it. Does this one moment undo the way he’s carried himself with the club over the last three years? Again, I’m not sure it does.
If anything, the one reason I really would consider taking the captaincy away from Xhaka is by mutual agreement for his own good.
It might be the best thing to protect him from the extra pressure, to kill the issue and move on from it, and to give him a chance to rebuild his reputation away from the spotlight as Shkodran Mustafi has been recently.
I’m just not sure stripping the captaincy away as a punishment for a player reacting badly under such huge pressures shows any more class than the reaction itself. As Hector Bellerin said afterwards, it’s time to lift each other up, not to push each other away.