Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Xhaka media blitz : ‘Safe standing’

Morning all.

There’s a lot of Granit Xhaka stuff doing the rounds this morning after he sat down with a number of journalists on the Arsenal beat last week. Some of it we’ve heard before, in terms of how he views Mikel Arteta (extremely favourably); what he thinks of his tactics (a lot); but I quite liked this bit from Aaron Ramsdale who spoke about the Swiss international’s leadership qualities and presence in the dressing room (via CBS Sports):

“We’ve had a few arguments on the pitch, me and Granit, but a type of person who can be a great leader is someone who just forgets about it when you get in the changing room. He’ll have different ways to speak to different people. It gets the best out of me and him together when we have a little argument. We get back in the changing room and everything is fine.”

It was notable that when Martin Odegaard came off against Crystal Palace on Friday night, the captain’s armband went to Xhaka. At that point Kieran Tierney was on the pitch, and while we haven’t had an announcement which explicitly says Xhaka is the vice-captain, it looks like that’s the pecking order now. There is a ‘leadership group’, of which he was always going to be a part, but after everything that happened previously there were times when the armband very obviously didn’t go to him.

Perhaps it’s just a question of time, enough water has gone under the bridge at this point, and Xhaka has spoken previously about how he feels his relationship with Arsenal fans has improved. To be fair, it’s probably in the best place it’s been for quite a long time, although you’re always waiting for the next moment when patience is tested. But, as we all know by now, he’s just that kind of player, those moments are always going to occur, and not once in his Arsenal career has a red card or anything else seemed to make any of his managers/head coaches revise their thinking with regards his importance to the team. He’s always picked.

Some will say that’s because he hasn’t ever really had anyone pushing him hard for his place, and I do think there’s an element of truth to that. Midfielders have come and gone, and the idea of the ‘Xhaka upgrade’ is an appealing one when you consider how we can continue to rebuild this team going forward. For now though, that player hasn’t arrived or emerged, and while his game has some limitations, he’s more solid and reliable than he’s given credit for in my opinion.

There’s also no question he’s an incredibly popular guy inside the dressing room. Any time any of the other players speak about him, there’s no doubt they love his character and what he brings. And he was quite thoughtful on stuff about how the relationships between players and fans can be improved:

“They see us only in the 90 minutes. Everyone has a good and bad day. That is why I spoke with the club about it: ‘Why can’t we bring the fans, maybe once a week, so they can see us how we train?’. It’s not like we are coming here to waste our time and after that we don’t care about the 90 minutes.

“We care more than people think. Me and Aaron [Ramsdale] for example can’t sleep after the game when we lose, but no one can see that.”

I doubt there’s any way Arsenal are going to start having open training sessions for the benefit of fan engagement, but maybe this kind of access to players is part of how that can be managed. There is a bit more openness and transparency around the club these days, with All Or Nothing, Inside Hale End (where are the episodes though?), more involvement from Josh Kroenke etc, so perhaps more insight into players and how they work behind the scenes will prove beneficial in the wider context.

Elsewhere, the club have made an official comment about ‘licensed standing’ (previously known as ‘safe standing’), after a significant majority of the 16,000 supporters who provided feedback to the club said they were in favour of it. Further discussions and consultations will take place, and the club say:

We must be clear the introduction of licensed standing at Arsenal will not result in an increased capacity at Emirates Stadium as there must be one seat / space per standing person. As a club, we would also incur significant costs to implement licensed standing.

You do feel there’s still a reluctance to go down this road, and whether those costs would be felt by an increase in ticket prices, or more expensive tickets for the standing areas remains to be seen. I think it’s worded in such a way which leaves you in little doubt that this cost isn’t one that will be swallowed 100% by the owners.

However, it’s more positive than it has been, and maybe long-term the presence of a standing area, and what it does for the atmosphere inside the stadium, will pay for itself in terms of the way supporters can have an impact on the team. It’s something Mikel Arteta has consistently spoken about, and worked hard to cultivate. Perhaps it ought to be looked at as part of that construction, rather than simply a bricks and mortar operation.

Right, that’s it for this morning. Have a good one.

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