Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace at The Emirates yesterday was smothered with controversy as Arsenal were denied a late winner by Mr VAR but more significantly due to a very public fall out between the club’s captain and fans. After Granit Xhaka’s name was held up on the board on sixty minutes, a toxic mixture of ironic cheers and booing sparked an enraged Xhaka to react. An armband was thrown to the floor, expletives uttered to the crowd and ears cupped in what were remarkable scenes, even for a club that seems to be unable to stay away from the headlines.
Clearly Xhaka’s reaction was wholly inappropriate yet in the midst of such harsh critique from your own fans, some might forgive his emotional response to what was a vocal explosion towards a player that many fans clearly feel is not fit to be the captain of the club, even before yesterday’s scenes. The fact is that this backlash towards Xhaka has been coming as after Laurent Koscielny’s peculiar exit from the club in the summer, Arsenal have been in desperate need of a leader on the pitch. A role that was so crucial in Arsene Wenger’s glory years at the club. Xhaka was apparently appointed by a player vote, with a list of deputy captains also put forward, which seemed to enrage an already ready to blow Arsenal fan base.
As in truth Unai Emery’s faith in Xhaka has left many in North London puzzled with the likes of Lucas Torreira and Dani Ceballos warming various benches around the country while Xhaka is played basically every week, regardless of form. Many modern clubs lack a natural leader in their ranks and it’s evident that importance of an old fashioned, blood-eyed captain has waned in the modern game. The likes of Tony Adams and Patrick Veira are a rare breed in 2019, yet it’s perhaps Xhaka’s form rather than his lack of leadership qualities that lead to Sunday’s dramatic scenes.
What is also clear however is the fact that current frustrations towards the manager and now the captain are an accumulation from the latter years of Arsene Wenger’s reign. The problems with the Arsenal team under Emery are unique yet the existing issues of underachievement, inconsistent activity at board level and a deep longing for times long past seem as ingrained in the club’s fabric as ever. Though it has to be said that Emery is currently not helping himself it comes to pressure from the club’s fans. His constant faith in Xhaka is curious when looking at the impressive squad that Arsenal have, especially now most of that squad is match fit.
There is also the ongoing issue that Emery seems to have unfortunately inherited from Arsene Wenger’s last few seasons at the club and that is Arsenal’s well below average away form. In the calender year of 2019, Arsenal domestically have picked just fifteen points on the road, which only some excellent home form has been able to cover the tracks of. Yesterday though Arsenal were unable to rectify last Monday’s 1-0 defeat at Sheffield United and now find themselves four points off the top four. Though perhaps it isn’t Emery’s numbers but more his hard to pin down style of management that is leading to ugly scenes at The Emirates. After fifteen months in charge the former Sevilla and PSG boss still constantly rotates his side, leaving many players unable to establish rhythm within the team, loanee signing Dani Ceballos being a prime example of this.
Worst still is the Mesut Ozil situation at the club, as yesterday also saw fans sing out the German playmaker’s name as he was once again not in the match day squad despite being declared match fit by Emery and also being paid just shy of fifteen million pounds annually by the club. Arsenal’s lack of creativity in midfield has been evident in recent games so to not even have Ozil on the bench seems bizarre on face value. There is clearly something going on behind the scenes regarding Ozil and the fans backlash against their own captain will possibly force Emery’s hand in clarifying the situation. As if Emery continues at his current trajectory then the #WengerOut trend may well have a new name to take aim at.
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