Granit Xhaka is the man who can't be moved.
He might have been stripped of the captaincy, hounded off the Emirates pitch by the fans and left on the verge of tears.
But there is something that pulls at the Arsenal man's heartstrings whenever he even considers leaving.
Not for nothing, Xhaka is one of Arsenal’s longest-serving players in the squad and most experienced too. The centre midfielder has made over 220 appearances for the club since arriving in the summer of 2015 for £34m from Borussia Monchengladbach.
Even despite his disciplinary issues that plagued his first 18 months at the club, Xhaka has been a consistent figure in Arsenal’s engine room.
He plays with his heart on his sleeve and leaves everything out on the pitch; his fight cannot be called into question, although his performances sometimes can.
After all, there have been some dark times in his six seasons at the club.
Two years ago, following a dismal display against Crystal Palace, Arsenal fans wanted to make their dissenting voices clear with a loud chorus of boos when Xhaka was substituted.
The football world could only watch on in complete astonishment as an angry Xhaka responded by swearing, gesticulating and storming off down the tunnel.
It was a situation from which he could not possibly return, at least that it is what was said at the time.
He had shown a clear disrespect to the fans, even if they were the ones who had started it. His emotions had overwhelmed him and at this point, his reaction had only exacerbated the problem.
Former Arsenal legend Charlie Nicholas, working as a pundit for Sky Sports at the time, slammed his behaviour as "atrocious".
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"He's representing Arsenal as a captain and it is unacceptable to think you're as big as anything at the club," he said.
"His behaviour was atrocious, and I don't see him having a future at the club."
Having been replaced as captain by then-manager Unai Emery, Xhaka had nowhere left to turn except for the exit door. A move to Hertha Berlin was mentioned and it seemed he would be heading back to Germany.
But Arteta’s arrival to replace Emery in December 2019 showed Xhaka there were better times around the corner.
“Everyone knows what happened with me and the fans. It was not a nice time,” Xhaka recalled on BT Sport back in August.
“Sometimes this happens in life, maybe sometimes you need this to be back in reality and say ‘listen, I have to work more’.
Image:2021 The Arsenal Football Club Plc)
“I was very, very close to leaving the club. Until this time, I had very great moments with the football club but after that, I was of course a bit down.
“But then Mikel came, I had a very good meeting with him. It was never in my mind to leave the club.
"Of course, you think about it but Mikel was the guy, he turned it around and gave me a second chance.”
For Arteta, Xhaka became his reliable utility man. Whether it was centre midfield, centre-back in a four-man defence, left-sided centre-back in a back three or even a left-back, he would not complain as long as he was playing.
The fact only Bukayo Saka made more Premier League appearances than his 29 speaks volumes about his value to the club.
But with two consecutive eighth-place finishes in the Premier League, it was thought that the Arsenal boss would attempt to rebuild his squad to get the Gunners back to qualifying for European football.
Some questioned whether Xhaka should be part of his plans. At 28 years of age and with only two years left on his contract, it would be the right time to cash in should there be interest in signing him — and there was.
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Earlier this summer at Euro 2020, Xhaka flourished for Switzerland when dictating the play in the quarterback role, which saw him deployed in a deep-lying playmaker position.
It meant everything went through him from their own half, and when out of possession, he could intercept opposition attacks.
His displays were a joy to behold, in particular his man of the match performance against France in the thrilling last-16 clash which finished 3-3 and saw the Swiss progress on penalties.
Xhaka’s eye-of-the-needle pass set through Mario Gavranovic and he finished with aplomb. His accurate diagonal balls also pushed Vladimir Petkovic’s side higher up the pitch.
Of course, Jose Mourinho was already aware of this unheralded side to Xhaka’s game. He had faced him many times as Manchester United boss and Tottenham head coach, now he wanted him at Roma.
“Arsenal know what I want to do,” Xhaka had said while at Euro 2020 with Switzerland.
“Football is a team sport and you’re only as good as your team. Of course, it was a good year for me personally. I’ve always played and performed.
“But the place at the end of the season is, of course, really bitter and disappointing for us.”
The pieces were coming together. Arsenal signed Albert Sambi Lokonga from Anderlecht in July, a player who at 22 very much appears to be one they can build around for the future.
Add Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny into the mix and there is some serious competition for places. It looked almost a done deal for Xhaka to head to AS Roma to join Mourinho’s Italian revolution.
However, the lack of progress in negotiations suggests they will not meet Arsenal’s £15m asking price and, after watching Xhaka score in the 2-1 friendly defeat to Chelsea on Sunday, Arteta insisted he will stay at the club.
“Granit is going to be staying with us,” Arteta said. “He’s a player that we value so much he’s a key member of our squad.
"He wanted to play today and I think it’s very clear coming from his side that he wants to be here.”
Whether it is linked to Partey’s injury, which the Spaniard admitted “does not look good”, only he knows. But according to The Athletic, Xhaka will open talks over extending his deal beyond 2023.
Image:Pool via REUTERS)
That suggests Arteta sees his future at Arsenal until the latter stages of his career at least. It could even see Xhaka enter testimonial territory, should he see out an extended deal.
It represents quite a remarkable turnaround yet again. Xhaka might have had those tickets to Rome booked months ago, yet London will remain his home.
Just when Arsenal fans thought he was gone, Xhaka is back at the Emirates preparing for another long season — and no one is getting rid of him in a hurry.
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