Once mocked, the former captain now reminds the Premier League leaders’ supporters of how far they have come

A couple of months ago, Granit Xhaka was warming up at the Vitality Stadium before Arsenal’s game against Bournemouth when he noticed that the travelling fans were serenading Oleksandr Zinchenko, one of the club’s summer signings. (“Zin-chen-ko! Always believe in your soul!”). Xhaka sidled up to his new colleague. “Alex,” he joked. “I’ve been here for six years and I don’t have a song. You’ve been here for three weeks.”

And somehow you just know how Xhaka would have said it, too: with that unique Xhaka-esque blend of blitheness and hurt, insecurity and defiance, the throwaway comment that actually comes from the most tender of places. Every player knows their songs. Every player knows when they don’t have one. And while some players don’t care, Xhaka has never been very good at disguising how much he cares about things.

Take his extraordinary outburst after the 2-0 defeat at St James’ Park at the end of last season: a scathing rebuke to his teammates delivered not in the intimacy of the dressing room or on an access-all-areas documentary, but on live television, straight down the camera. “If someone isn’t ready for this game, stay at home,” he spat in disgust. “If you’re nervous, stay on the bench, don’t come here. We need people to have the balls to come here and play.”

For much of his Arsenal career, Xhaka’s no-filter approach won him as many adversaries as admirers. The passion was never the problem; rather it was the lack of self-control, the red cards, the simple errors, that time he told the fans to “fuck off” after getting substituted against Crystal Palace. As Arsenal floundered on the pitch, Xhaka somehow came to embody everything that was holding them back: all mouth and no assists, a thermostat set permanently to “heatwave”.

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