Xhaka almost left Arsenal after 'pure hate' from fans

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Granit Xhaka came close to quitting Arsenal in late 2019 after receiving "pure hate" from sections of the club's fanbase.

The Switzerland international said he felt "very disrespected" after being booed by his own fans in an incident in October that year and recognises he will "never be best friends" with many supporters despite reasserting himself as a key member of the Arsenal team.

Xhaka lost the club captaincy after throwing his armband to the ground having been booed by supporters in a 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace, but he fought his way back into the team following Mikel Arteta's appointment as manager.

The midfielder has made 19 Premier League appearances this season, all of them starts, as Arsenal chase Champions League qualification, but said he still remembers the experience when he leaves the pitch after a defeat.

"My bags were packed, the passports were out, I was done with Arsenal. Finished," Xhaka said. "There was a contract on the table from another club, and all I had to do was sign.

"First, I want to make it very clear that I love Arsenal. I always did, and I still do. I will give everything for this club until the day I leave. I also know that some people do not like me, this is part of football and I get it.

"But that day against Crystal Palace, things went over the line. I was taken off after about an hour. I had barely begun to move when I heard the boos, and it was not just a few guys in the corner, it was a lot of people. 

"I was shocked. This hate. Pure hate. I have never had a problem with criticism, but to be booed by your own fans? As captain? That is different, that is about respect.

"That day, I felt very disrespected. The comments were over the line, it felt personal. Yes, I was the Arsenal captain, but I am also a human being. So, as a human being, I reacted.

"Was I wrong to do what I did? Yes. But would I do anything differently if it happened again tomorrow? Honestly, I don't know. 

"Still to this day, if we have lost, I hate walking those last metres to the tunnel, because I still recognise the faces. The same people are sitting there."

Xhaka has also attracted criticism in recent seasons for his aggressive style of play, with no Premier League player being shown more than his five red cards across all competitions since 2016 – his latest coming in the Carabao Cup semi-final against Liverpool in January.

However, the 29-year-old says he will never change his style in response to fans' criticisms.

"Listen, the cards have always been part of my game," he added. "They were in Germany, too. I'm all in, and it's the same in training. If I elbow a player, I'll be the first one to say, 'I'm sorry'. But a tackle? Come on, guys, this is not ballet.

"Why do the coaches keep playing me? Because I'm a 'good guy'? No. It's because I train hard, I work hard, and I try to help my team-mates. I will not change for some guy who is hiding behind a keyboard. No chance."

Successive Premier League defeats to Crystal Palace and Brighton have harmed Arsenal's chances of securing a top-four finish ahead of Saturday's trip to Southampton, with Arsenal last losing three consecutive league games in their first three outings of the campaign last August.

"I can promise you that I will still act like a captain," Xhaka said. "I get a lot of respect from my team-mates and our staff, and I am so thankful for that. I will always help the young guys and take responsibility for our performances. 

"Arsenal is still in my heart, 100 per cent. My challenge was never to change people's opinions about me, but to help the team. 

"I understand that we will never be best friends, but I hope we can treat each other with honesty and respect. I want you to know that whatever I do on the pitch, it comes from the right place. 

"I still love this club, I believe Mikel is building a great team, and I want to achieve something special here."