Watching from the Clock End during the game against Crystal Palace, I buried my head into my scarf and tried to think about something more cheerful as the boos started to rain down on Granit Xhaka during his slow trudge off the pitch. I was ashamed to be an Arsenal fan, ashamed to be associated with those events. And nothing has changed despite the widely held consensus that the captain is in the wrong.
The Emirates era has coincided with the explosion of social media, through which any Arsenal fan can have their opinion ratified by the instant publication that platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram grant. Hounding the most successful manager in the club’s history via a hashtag that made its way onto flags at Glastonbury and protests in Africa – fan opinion has been disseminated far and wide during the ‘banter years’ at Arsenal FC.
Frustratingly, those who shout (or boo in this case) loudest are now considered as spokespersons for fan sentiment. DT, a prominent contributor to ArsenalFanTV, is to diplomatic, reasoned opinion, what black is to white. His opinions are articulated by swearing into a microphone and telling everybody who disagrees with him to “shut the fuck up.” Remarkably, ArsenalFanTV is supposed to be considered an example of the democratisation of football and is now home to enforced censorship from its main characters.
The atmosphere at the ground is frequently horrendous, which of course can be attributed to the team’s performance, but where criticisms of a manager’s tactics can be grounded in reason and a willingness to see the team play better, this type of fan response is instead being drowned out by personal attacks on the players. “Get your hair cut!” was one such jibe directed at Hector Bellerin last season following a misplaced pass.
Xhaka’s substitution on Sunday was borne out of more tactical failings from a manager scared to accept accountability. Emery’s substitutions were at first refreshing, and a suggestion that he was willing to be proactive and shuffle his pack when required. The pack however, shouldn’t have to be shuffled every game. Xhaka’s strengths are best suited for a team in control, but Emery wants to be reactive and counter, which requires a level of mobility that Xhaka simply doesn’t have. This is nothing new.
As a victim to his own manager’s tactical incompetence, Xhaka is gamely trying to execute a role that is already occupied by Matteo Guendouzi. His reaction to being substituted was normal, because he too knows that the system isn’t working. Laughably, when Arsenal fans started to throw every swearword possible at the departing skipper, there was objection to the Swiss, perfectly within reason, telling them to “fuck off.” This was not a refusal to accept that his performances have not been great. This was a response to criticism again becoming personal and the unfair reality that fans are projecting every failing onto one player. I would join him in telling those ‘fans’ where to go.