After another Arsenal disappointment, binning a 2-0 lead in an eventual 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace in front of the home fans, Unai Emery may have expected to face the brunt of the blame yet again, the heat turned up on the Arsenal boss.
While the Spaniard still must face the music, temporarily the venom was directed elsewhere.
Controversial captain Granit Xhaka exited the pitch was withdrawn in the 61st minute, marking the second straight match and third in the last five that he failed to complete the full 90 minutes. As he walked off the pitch visibly frustrated with the manager’s decision, jeers swelled in the crowd and he was booed off the field. Xhaka reacted angrily to the crowd, sarcastically gesturing for louder cheers as he walked off before eventually caught swearing at the home supporters in retaliation for the hostile reception.
The incident has blown up to a full-on crisis. The media took the incident and ran with it, with some calling for Xhaka’s removal as captain just weeks after being given the full-time role.
The controversy has left the squad in a difficult situation. According to The Athletic’s Amy Lawrence, who details the team’s reaction to the situation, Xhaka is a well-liked figure in the dressing room, and it has put some players in a bind, unsure whether to support their beloved teammate and friend in fear of supporter reaction. Still, that hasn’t stopped the players from sticking together.
Midfielder Lucas Torreira was caught by team photographer Stuart MacFarlane in tears as Xhaka was booed off the field, requiring consolation from both Emery and Hector Bellerin. Xhaka reportedly left the stadium early, only inciting further anger among the fanbase. Fan favorite Bellerin took to social media pleading for fan support, saying “we only win when we are together.”
According to Lawrence, a handful of players actually visited Xhaka at his home on Sunday, hoping to show their cohesion and offer emotional guidance to their chosen captain. Her report says that Xhaka is “devastated” by the occurence at the Emirates over the weekend and the ensuing fallout.
The job for Unai Emery looks more daunting than ever. The club is fifth in the league table but on pace for its lowest points total since the early 90’s. They sit 12 points adrift of leaders Liverpool after just 10 matches and look to be set for yet another scrap for a Champions League place, in danger of wasting yet another season of high wages and little return. There’s plenty of time to turn things around, but it remains unclear whether Emery is the man to make that happen.
Now, in addition to rebounding on the pitch, Emery must bring his squad together in a time of emotional need and also must placate the supporters who feel the appointed club captain has betrayed them.