Xhaka’s resurgence under Arteta and Alonso: From being booed off at Arsenal to playing a key role in Leverkusen’s unbeaten season

Granit Xhaka has emerged as the heartbeat of Bayer Leverkusen’s remarkable season and it’s in part because of the faith shown to him by Mikel Arteta and Xabi Alonso. 

The Swiss international endured a tough time at Arsenal before the arrival of Arteta in December 2019, losing the captaincy and the hearts of many Arsenal supporters under former manager Unai Emery.

It followed an incident where Xhaka was booed off the pitch by Arsenal fans during a home game against Crystal Palace. The Swiss international made some improper gestures towards the Emirates faithful before removing his jersey in frustration at being substituted. 

After Arteta replaced Emery as Arsenal’s manager just two months after the ordeal, Xhaka’s despairing career with the Gunners had new hope – playing a key role in the Spaniard’s first season in which Arsenal lifted the FA Cup. 

“I think it’s a beautiful story,” Arteta said back in 2020 about Xhaka’s return to form.  

“For someone that was extremely struggling and could not find the sense of enjoyment that is required in this profession to fulfil your dreams, and all the hard work to come to a certain level. 

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“He turned that moment with great courage, with some important decisions for which his family backed him up and then with performances.” 

Xhaka had worked his way back into the Arsenal team and had regained the trust of supporters thanks to the faith Arteta had shown in him.

Last season, Arsenal’s title-chasing campaign ended in bitter disappointment, but Xhaka once again played a leading role. 

The 31-year-old’s subsequent transfer to Bayer Leverkusen last summer initially felt like a step down for him as Arsenal signed Declan Rice, Kai Havertz and co in an attempt to go one step further this season. 

Xhaka’s career was seemingly on the decline, but it turns out he had plenty of quality left to offer and has emerged as the lynchpin of Leverkusen’s historic season, winning the league without losing a single game along the way.

The midfielder’s playing time in Germany this season shows how highly Alonso values him too.

Xhaka has started all but one game in the league for Leverkusen and has only been subbed off when games have been done and dusted. His presence in midfield is crucial to the way Alonso’s team sets up.

His calmness on the ball and ability to distribute under pressure are attributes that were enhanced under the tutelage of Arteta and Alonso, both of whom were midfield maestros during their playing days.

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He has the most touches in the Bundesliga this season, is ranked second for successful passes from open play and has even covered more distance than any other player in the league. 

Xhaka has brought so much more than just experience to the club and the statistics along with Leverkusen’s eye-catching season proves that.

Shortly after joining the Bundesliga side, Alonso said that there are a lot of similarities between him as a player and Xhaka. 

“I can see it in his eyes that he always wants to learn. And this happened to me exactly in the last phase of my career as an active player. He wants to become a coach and it is clearly visible. I believe he will be a great coach,” Alonso told Bild in 2023. 

It seems like Xhaka’s career has been aided by two of football’s brightest up and coming coaches. He also seems to be inspired by them. Xhaka has already started completing coaching courses and earning the necessary licences so that when he does eventually leave behind his playing career, he too will be in a suitable position to step into management.  

“I had a very, very good relationship with Mikel, of course. A young coach who had a first job at a big, big club like Arsenal, of course [like] Xabi now. I see not a lot of big difference between them,” he stated. 

“They think the same, they work the same. I’m more than happy, it’s a privilege for me to have Mikel before and Xabi now. 

“First of all he (Alonso) was an amazing player. Secondly for me as a midfielder – like how Mikel was as well – Xabi is showing many, many small details on the pitch. For me that’s something special.” 

Xhaka enjoyed his best season with Arsenal last season and is now arguably having the season of his life with Leverkusen. Arteta and Alonso have certainly played their part and the resurgence of Xhaka could still have some way to go yet.

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