Granit Xhaka reveals just how close he was to leaving Arsenal in comprehensive interview
Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka has revealed that he was a signature away from leaving the north London club in the January transfer window of 2020, claiming that ‘my bags were packed’, only for Mikel Arteta to convince him to stay.
The former Arsenal captain has always divided opinion at The Emirates Stadium, and matters came to a head in November 2019, when he was booed off against Crystal Palace by his own fans. His response, to tell them in no uncertain terms where to go and to throw the captain’s armband on the floor, seemed a point of no return.
And to Xhaka, it was.
‘I was done with Arsenal’, the midfielder told The Players Tribune. ‘Finished. There was a contract on the table from another club, and all I had to do was sign. I had talked with my wife, Leonita, and we had decided to leave’.
‘I was just going to say goodbye to Mikel, and then we would board the plane’.
That incident was in the dying days of the reign of Unai Emery, who was sacked just 6 games later after falling to a 2-1 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League group stage. He left the Gunners after just 3 wins in his last 11 Premier League games, and after an interim period, Mikel Arteta was appointed.
And it was the current Arsenal boss that convinced him to change his mind.
‘When Mikel was appointed in December, I told him that I wanted to leave’, Xhaka continued. ‘He understood completely. We had a second chat a few days later, and when I went in, I had talked it through with my wife. Our suitcases were literally placed by the door.’
‘When I have made a decision like that, it is very difficult to change my mind. But then Mikel began to talk about how I was a big part of his plans. I liked his warmth. He was honest, straight. Clear plans. I felt I could trust him. He told me to give him six months to prove me wrong, and then if I still wanted to leave, no problem.’
‘My head had left Arsenal, but my heart had not’, the 29-year-old admitted.
It is this love that saw him commit his future to the club last summer, despite interest from Roma, and he confirms that he will see out his contract at the Emirates if he is allowed to, reiterating his belief in Mikel Arteta and his own desire to succeed in front of the fans that he has forgiven, but not forgotten.
‘After this season, I have two years left of my contract. I believe Mikel is building a great team, and I want to achieve something special here’, he concluded.
Whether or not it will ever come to pass is another matter.