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Thank You Granit Xhaka – It was Quite the Ride

Image result for xhaka captain

Granit Xhaka departs from Arsenal to Bayer Leverkusen after making 297 appearances for Arsenal in seven seasons with the club. He was an ever-present player for the Gunners, averaging over 40 appearances every campaign, and giving his all to the side. In Xhaka’s time at Arsenal, he served three managers, starting with Arsene Wenger that acquired his services from Borussia Monchengladbach, to Unai Emery, where he reached his nadir with the club and Mikel Arteta, where we saw his resurgence.

Whether he featured as a No. 6, or a ‘left No. 8’, Xhaka remained a modicum of consistency with a sleek passing range that saw him create loads of chances for his teammates. He also had an eye for goal and possessed a fierce shot from that magic wand of a left boot. I can’t get over that swerve for his famous goal against Manchester United that got David de Gea scrambling and thinking about his destiny afterwards.

Arsenal Sporting Director, Edu Gaspar, and the club’s gaffer, Mikel Arteta, have paid their tributes to Xhaka, and it’s so good to see him leave on very good terms with the club, especially if you recall the events of October 2019 that saw Xhaka’s relationship with the fans reach an all-time low. With Arsenal struggling against Crystal Palace, Unai Emery made the decision to substitute Xhaka for a young Bukayo Saka. The Swiss midfielder was jeered by the crowd when his number popped up on the fourth officials board earlier in the season. This time, Xhaka, for the life of me was having none of it. He threw his armband on the pitch, rather than passing it to his vice captain, Aubameyang, screamed ‘f*ck off’ to the Gooners, cupped his ear to further incite the fans before taking his shirt off and storming into the dressing room.

That was truly the end. 

His agent went to the streets and gained alignment with the higher ups at Hertha Berlin, and personal terms were agreed. All that was left was a fee agreement between Arsenal and the German based outfit, but the deteriorating results on the pitch saw Emery lose his job and the doors opened for Arteta to make his mark on the club. One of his first major milestones as the Arsenal gaffer, wasn’t really that 2020 FA Cup win, but mending bridges with Xhaka and re-assigning him back to the first team setup.

He had been stripped of the Arsenal captaincy and had lost his allure to don the famous Red and White, but Arteta convinced him to stay and even went ahead to facilitate the Swiss midfielder extending his contract to 2024. The fans also forgave one of their favorite sons and he backed it up with some exemplary performances on the pitch, to the point he won player of the month awards and was recognized on a national scale, winning the Swiss Player of the Year award. Xhaka had scored only seven goals in his last four seasons prior to the recently concluded campaign – this season he scored nine. Oleksandr Zinchenko’s introduction to the side also helped his resurgence, but Xhaka also put in the work and reaped the rewards.

Off the pitch, he was a leader with massive influence in the dressing room, enforcing Arteta’s ideas to the side and mentoring the younger ones. The writing was on the wall when Arsenal thrashed Wolves resoundingly on the last game of the season. Xhaka was on steroids mode that day, scoring two goals and playing like it was his last, which it eventually turned out to be. The way he stayed on the pitch and waved his goodbyes to the fans gave a very good hint that his time with the club was coming to a halt.

Despite reaching an agreement with Bayer Leverkusen early in the summer, Xhaka still honored the club’s request to stay put while they worked tirelessly to secure the services of his replacement, Declan Rice. As soon as total agreement was reached with West Ham and Rice was given the go-ahead to have his Arsenal medicals, Xhaka jetted off to Germany to have his own medicals and confirm his five-year deal with Leverkusen.

297 games, 23 goals, 29 assists.

Thank you Granit Xhaka. It has been quite the ride.


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Xhaka Leaving May be a Günd Thing

Arsenal: Granit Xhaka can't handle heat of high press

Granit Xhaka has been a household name at Arsenal and is just four games short of reaching 300 in seven seasons with the club. However, it’s looking likely that Xhaka may not be an Arsenal player anymore amid rife speculation that he is bound to join Xabi Alonso at Bayer Leverkusen for a proposed €15m fee. Following the defeat to Nottingham Forest, Xhaka dropped some striking words regarding his future,

“You will know the latest next week, for sure I think they (the fans) deserve that and I do myself as well. We have one more week of this Premier League season, the first thing is I want to enjoy and, for sure, you guys will know next week what happens with my future.

If next week we know much more about what happen with my future, I will be thankful to the fans because of how they treat me after this, I didn’t expect that if I am honest. I am thankful for that and I want to give them something back for maybe my last game on Sunday.”

You don’t need to read in between the lines to ascertain that Xhaka’s last appearance for Arsenal might probably be the home game against Wolves this Sunday, which will be rather emotional, because the fans have built all the bridges that were burnt and had a deep connection with him. One may look to the potential transfer and wonder where his ambitions lie, bearing in mind that he was vital in Arsenal finally returning to the Champions League after a six-season hiatus, only to leave to a team currently in sixth place in the Bundesliga and may be in threat to miss out on the Europa Conference League next season if VFL Wolfsburg gets a better result than Leverkusen in the final weekend of the season.

Maybe its a family decision to return to Germany, after leaving his four-year spell at Borussia Monchengladbach to join Arsenal in 2016. However, I trust that there would be no ill-feeling towards Xhaka because he worked really hard to get to where he is with the fans. His performances this season were exemplary, his output better than it has ever been for the club and his leadership on and off the pitch could not be over emphasized. 

Losing Xhaka will also create a massive crater in the Arsenal midfield, that can only be filled by the likes of Declan Rice or Moises Caicedo. But with Arsenal competing on four fronts next season, squad depth will be very important, which brings me to the latest speculation linking Arsenal with a move for Manchester City’s captain, Ilkay Gundogan. Ironically, Gundogan, like Xhaka, arrived in the Premier League from the Bundesliga in 2016, and while Xhaka amassed 296 caps for the Gunners, scoring 21 goals, Gundogan has played 301 games for Manchester City, scoring 58 goals.

Arsenal also has a healthy business relationship with Manchester City, with the Gunners selling the likes of Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy, Emmanuel Adebayor and Bacary Sagna to the Cityzens in their formative years as football superpowers, while Manchester City recently sold Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko to Arsenal last summer, as well as Pep Guardiola’s assistant manager leaving him for the Gunners a couple of seasons ago. Arsenal isn’t the only team interested in the services of Gundogan – FC Barcelona have been long-term admirers of the German maestro, and Manchester City are very much interested in offering him a new contract extension to keep him at the club for the foreseeable future. 

Despite his advancing age, we have watched Gundogan enough to know what he will bring to the table. His passing is top-notch, he’s a massive threat from set pieces, he has a good eye for goal and most importantly, he is an experienced seasoned professional that would bring his positive mentality to the side. He won a Bundesliga, DFB Pokal and German Super Cup with Dortmund before joining Manchester City, and with the Blue Half of Manchester, he has won five Premier League titles, four Carabao Cup titles, one FA Cup and two Community Shields.

Signing Gundogan would also mean that he could feature in Xhaka’s ‘left #8’ position alongside Partey in the starting XI. In as much I’d love me some Rice or Caicedo, Arsenal might stand a better chance with signing Gundogan on a free transfer than splurging some huge millions to get these other targets – even though we are hopeful the club is successful in recruiting these targets.

There would be a lot of speculation this summer and we are up for it with no meaningful to keep us distracted.

Xhaka leaving may actually be a Günd thing.


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Balogun a Yankee and Xhaka on the Move?

Arsenal to sell Xhaka, Tierney and Balogun

Just a couple of days ago, I shared my thoughts on the Granit Xhaka contract situation and expected that everything was going to be sorted at the end of the season, with only two games against Nottingham Forest and Wolves left before the curtains close on what has been a grueling campaign. To my surprise, the internet has been swarmed with stories confirming Xhaka’s potential exit from the club,

“Granit Xhaka, set to leave Arsenal at the end of the season. No negotiations over new deal and plan to part ways in June.

“Bayer Leverkusen are in advanced talks to sign him — €15m fee.

“Understand personal terms are almost agreed over four year deal — June 2027,”

We all know that Fabrizio Romano and David Ornstein are two journos that speak assertively when it comes to transfer news, and even though some don’t pan out as they proclaim, the chances are always high that they are absolutely correct because of the ‘sources’ they have in football clubs. 

Let me assume this is true for a minute and just think about the ripple effect of losing such a vital cog in the Arsenal midfield engine like Xhaka. First off, we would lose a very good passer of the ball that threads some sumptuous balls behind enemy lines. Thanks to the awesome comparison matrix at Squawka, I was compared his passing stats with his midfield partner in crime, Thomas Partey.

Xhaka created 47 chances and had seven assists, when compared to Partey, who generally had more passes than the Swiss midfielder, but not much in the attacking third. Losing Xhaka will also create a massive crater in the Arsenal midfield, that can only be filled by the likes of Declan Rice or Moises Caicedo. Another thing putting me off on the potential Xhaka sale is the asking price – surely Arsenal can do better than €15m for their 30-year-old midfielder, but when you think of the fact that its either we take the 15 mil this summer, or let him go for free, all grumpy next summer, we are better off letting him go.

I will be saddened to see Xhaka leave as the fans have gone full circle with the Swiss midfielder. It seems like yesterday when he had the bust up with the fans in the Crystal Palace game and already agreed a deal with Hertha Berlin that winter, only to stay after his engagements with the new gaffer, Mikel Arteta,

“I think he’s going to stay. I really like him. The way we want to play, if we get him on board then he can be a tremendous player for the football club.

“It’s his commitment, I like the way he focusses, I like the way he lives his profession, he’s willing to learn and he’s a great football player.

“It’s also his range of passes and I’m just delighted to have him.”

Xhaka stayed back and helped Arteta win the FA Cup that season and Community Shield the season after. He was also one of the major contributors to Arsenal’s title push this season, scoring five goals and supplying seven assists for his teammates, while playing a new role following the acquisition of Oleksandr Zinchenko, whose forays into central midfield allowed Xhaka to be more expressive on the pitch, hence his improved attacking output. 

Xhaka’s exit will certainly be on good terms, as he has fixed the bridges that were burned in the yesteryear, and I wish him the very best in his potential new adventure in the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen.

Elsewhere, Folarin Balogun is another player that needs to sort out his future with the club, following his hugely successful loan spell with Stade de Reims that has seen him score 20 goals for the French outfit. Balogun would expect to either stake a claim for a first team berth next season, or go to the exit door for a permanent move elsewhere, with consistent first team football the priority, but what we know for sure, is that his international allegiances have been sorted out. 

Folarin Balogun celebrates a goal for Reims

Balogun was born to Nigerian parents and was raised in England. After playing a couple of games for England at Under-17 level, he accepted a call up from the United States Under-18s, and featured in the Vaclav Jezek Youth Tournament, scoring two goals in four games for the American youth team. Balogun then made a name for himself at the England Under-21 level, scoring seven goals in 13 games for the Young Lions. Last October, Balogun expressed his interest to play for the country close to his heart, Nigeria,

“I haven’t heard anything from Nigeria, but I’m open to anything because Nigeria is very close to my heart. My family’s from there. I always have love for Nigeria.”

“That’s a conversation that I need to have with people around me, my agent and obviously my family”.

“But if I was asked about the opportunity to play for Nigeria, then I can have that conversation. But first I need to be asked.”

However, Nigeria did nothing about this declaration from Balogun, as the Super Eagles played two friendlies in November 2022, where they lost woefully to Costa Rica and Portugal, as two African Cup of Nations qualifiers against Guinea Bissau in March 2023. These are four games Balogun could have had a chance to feature.

With Nigeria not reaching out and his prospects of featuring consistently for the England national team slim to none, Balogun has received approval from FIFA to play for the United States. The American head coach is over the moon with Balogun choosing to represent them, and has already confirmed that he will be in his plans for the CONCACAF Gold Cup this summer. The United States are also co-hosting the next FIFA World Cup in 2026, so Balogun will get a chance to strut his stuff in the big time in front of his home fans. 

At least, his international football future is sorted. We will need to have a conversation about his club football future in the coming weeks. 


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