Unai Emery has left the door open for Granit Xhaka to return to the Arsenal side, suggesting he may even consider the former captain for Saturday’s home match against Southampton.
It is a noticeable softening of stance from Emery, who said a fortnight ago he did not know whether the midfielder would play for Arsenal again and admitted the club had discussed selling him in January. Xhaka, whose fallout with a section of the club’s fans led to him being stripped of the armband, in effect ruled himself out of contention for the four matches preceding the international break but Emery appears ready to offer him a comeback in the next run of fixtures.
“He is coming back better in his mind,” the manager said. “His mindset is better to help us and to be closer to playing when we need him. I spoke to him this morning and we had a very good conversation.
“My objective is going to be [to use] his comeback to help us and to convince every supporter of his commitment with us and [that] his performances will be better and they will be proud of him in the long or short future with us.”
Pitching Xhaka into a match at the Emirates Stadium would seem a sizeable risk, with Arsenal badly in need of three points from the league’s 19th-placed side. But Emery did not rule out involving him.
“We are going to decide tomorrow but I want to do that comeback, give him confidence and make him comfortable. And when we can connect with our supporters with a good moment and a good performance, being strong with them.”
Emery reiterated the view that Xhaka, who was quoted this week in the Swiss media as saying he “can’t accept what has happened with me”, is committed to the club and pointed out that players who have previously come under fire from Arsenal supporters, citing Héctor Bellerín, have bounced back.
Bellerín’s situation was far less extreme but Emery was clearly looking to create a context in which Xhaka’s reintegration could be made palatable. “He is feeling better and also feeling his team is Arsenal now,” he said. “He wants to come back with confidence with the supporters. But I think, little by little, we can help him come back and connect with us and our supporters.
“We have some other players who have had that situation. They come back. With Xhaka I want to do the same.”
Emery also made clear Xhaka needed to accept that in reacting stormily to fans’ jeers against Crystal Palace in October he made an error. Xhaka has been reluctant to offer any unqualified public apology for his actions.
“The first question is don’t forget his mistake,” he said. “But he can come back showing his commitment, his good behaviour and good performances, helping and defending the Arsenal team. That is the objective. He is a good guy, a good player and he loves and respects Arsenal a lot, but knowing one day he made a mistake.”
Last month there were suggestions Arsenal had lined up José Mourinho to replace Emery, only for the club to publicly back their head coach and Mourinho to surface at Tottenham on Wednesday. Emery admitted he was taken aback by the news Spurs had sacked Mauricio Pochettino.
“It’s a surprise how it’s finishing, that relationship with Pochettino,” he said. “[Mourinho] is a very good coach. His career is very strong with the titles, with the experience. But Pochettino’s work at Tottenham was amazing.
“Their way in the last years with Pochettino was perfect. And now, they decided to change. I don’t know exactly the real reason for doing that, but they have their way and we have our way.”