Arsenal have announced that Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka has joined Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen. The fee is reported to be £21.5m, a significant recouping on the £30m investment Arsenal made into the midfielder seven years ago.
Xhaka leaves the club off the back of a career-best, in terms of personal stats. Xhaka, occupying the more attacking advanced number 8 role ended the season with 9 goals and 7 assists in all competitions.
Things have not always been smooth sailing for the Swiss midfielder. Though the chant of “Granit Xhaka, we want you to stay” echoed around the Emirates Stadium during the team’s 5-0 demolition of Wolverhampton Wanderers on the final day of the 2022/23 season, Xhaka’s time at the club has not always been viewed through such rose-tinted glasses.
Initially signed under Arsène Wenger, Xhaka established himself as part of a two-man pivot, alongside Frenchman Francis Coquelin. Wenger’s initial idea had been to use Xhaka as a box-to-box player, however, given Arsenal’s abundance of similar players (Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere as the main ones), this idea never came to fruition.
Xhaka enjoyed a more structured and disciplined role under Wenger’s replacement, Unai Emery. The structure of Emery’s system afforded Xhaka more insulation and gave him a clear idea of how the team would progress moving forward.
However, after a career low of being booed off the field by his own fans in the team’s 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace, Xhaka’s time at Arsenal looked to be over.
The arrival of Mikel Arteta changed that. Xhaka, who had been on the verge of joining German side Hertha Berlin for £28m, decided to remain under Arteta, the man Wenger had signed him to replace, and re-build his career.
Over that time, Xhaka slowly adapted to Arteta’s methods and ideas. Initially functioning in the deep-lying playmaker role, the arrival of Thomas Partey from Atlético Madrid, allowed him to push further and further up the field.
The 2021/22 season offered Arsenal fans their first glimpse of Xhaka in this role. Though he only finished the season with one goal in all competitions (an absolute howitzer at home to Manchester United), his positioning in the half-space of the final third was a big reason for Arsenal’s attacking improvement.
His departure marks the end of a love-hate relationship with the fans. The desire to move closer to his wife’s family, more guaranteed game time and the prospect of a fresh start and leaving on a high-note proved decisive for Xhaka in the end.
Arsenal, for their part, were open to his departure, but were not actively seeking it. The rumoured £21.5m fee will certainly be welcome by Richard Garlick and Edu, however, there will also be a disappointment that, even if he could not start matches, Xhaka would not be a part of the squad for the team’s return to the UEFA Champions League.
The club look to have already secured his replacement. Chelsea’s Kai Havertz joined for £65m at the end of June. Given Xhaka’s incredible returns last season, the German playmaker has some big shoes to fill.