Unai Emery has stripped Granit Xhaka of the Arsenal captaincy following his recent outburst against supporters.
Xhaka told fans to “f*** off” as he was jeered following his substitution in a recent 2-2 draw against Crystal Palace – also removing his shirt and cupping his ears.
The 27-year-old has since issued an apology of sorts, explaining that ongoing social media abuse aimed at his family played a large part in his furious reaction.
In the immediate aftermath of the incident, Arsenal said they would offer counselling and other support mechanisms as Emery said Xhaka was “devastated, sad and very down”.
The Switzerland international has since sat out the following two draws against Liverpool and Wolves and has not travelled for the Europa League clash against Vitoria on Wednesday afternoon.
And it was in Guimaraes, talking at his pre-match press conference, where Emery revealed he had taken the decision to relieve Xhaka of the captain’s armband.
“He is not today here, but also I think we need time with him and first protect him also to be calm and training with us every day,” he replied when asked about Xhaka’s continued absence from the team.
“But I was speaking with him this morning and also I decided he is not one of the captains in our group. I decided that and I told him this morning.
“He accepted my decision. And also I told the other captains the decision.
“We need to carry on and focus for tomorrow’s match and next Saturday’s match. I needed to make a decision and now it is closed.”
Former captain Laurent Koscielny left under a cloud during the summer after refusing to travel on the club’s pre-season tour of the United States, eventually being sold to Bordeaux.
In response, Emery held a blind ballot amongst his players which saw Xhaka top the poll, and in a five-man leadership group. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Hector Bellerin, Alexandre Lacazette and Mesut Ozil were also selected.
The Spaniard confirmed another vote will not take place and Aubameyang will lead the team moving forward, adding: “We have now Aubameyang, Hector, Lacazette and Ozil. They are the four captains and the first now is Aubameyang.”
Despite revealing his decision over the captaincy, Emery dodged questions as to Xhaka’s long-term future at the club.
“The decision I took I told him and I told the other captains and now it’s continuing,” he replied having been asked three times about if Xhaka had played his last game for Arsenal.
“Then the time is giving us the next matches, the next weeks and months how we can continue with every player and with him also.
“But now the focus is tomorrow. He’s not here we are other players and it’s very important I respect a lot this competition and this Vitoria team.”
Bellerin joined Emery for the press conference in the bowels of the Estadio D. Afonso Henriques ahead of the 15:50GMT kick-off on Wednesday.
The right-back endured his own rocky patch with Arsenal fans, who were unhappy with the team performance – ironically in a 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace – in April 2017.
He faced the brunt of vocal criticism at Selhurst Park and also deleted his Twitter account for some time afterwards.
But he is now a firm fan favourite having won over the doubters and his message to Xhaka was simple.
“Time heals,” he said.
“That was the situation with me and, as you can imagine, it was obviously really hard for me back then. It was the first time something like that had happened to me. At the time it was hard to deal with it.
“But I said to Granit: ‘this is like in every single other walk of life: there are ups and downs. One day you are at the top, the other day you are low. These are things we need to learn to deal with’.”
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