Arsenal manager Unai Emery confirmed on Friday that he will not play embattled midfielder Granit Xhaka against Wolverhampton Wanderers at home this Saturday, and would not confirm that Xhaka will continue as club captain.
Xhaka has come under fire for his aggressive reaction towards supporter abuse while being subbed off against Crystal Palace, appearing to swear at supporters who booed his performance as he exited. Opinions about Xhaka’s actions began to fly every which way, with many calling for the club to sanction the captain or sell him at the earliest possibility.
“I think that tomorrow, he is not going to play,” Emery said in his pre-match press conference on Friday. “Because I think that now, we need to be focused on the match at 100 per cent. Now we are going to train but at the moment, he’s not in my mind.”=
The 27-year-old did not play against Liverpool in the EFL Cup on Wednesday and issued an apology for his actions Thursday, explaining how supporter abuse has overstepped its bounds both in-person and via social media, causing him to eventually release pent-up anger when the boos rained down. Still, he apologized for reacting “in a way that disrespected the group of fans that support our club.”
“Xhaka’s issues last week is one issue that needs time,” Emery said. “He needs time to recover the normality in him. He said sorry. He gave apologies to the supporters and everybody. Now is the focus on tomorrow’s match.”
It is not surprising that Emery would not wish to subject Xhaka to the home crowd at the Emirates so soon after the player showed harsh animosity towards the fans. However, it was somewhat surprising that Emery would not confirm that Xhaka still serves as captain, and there will likely be more on that in the near future.
“The next step is tomorrow’s match,” Emery said when asked about Xhaka’s future as captain. “The focus is tomorrow’s match. It’s not in my mind that he will play tomorrow.”
For Saturday, Xhaka’s absence could mean the return of Mesut Ozil above the midfield duo of Lucas Torreira and Mateo Guendouzi. Ozil has not seen Premier League action since mid-September when he played the only 71 league minutes he has logged this campaign. The German international was excellent against Liverpool in the wild EFL Cup match on Wednesday, and after being substituted in the second half, speculation grew that Emery was saving Ozil for a Premier League run-out over the weekend.