Mikel Arteta is still playing coy on whether Granit Xhaka has played his last match for Arsenal but rather ominously said he needs to make tough decisions that are ‘best for the club’.
The north Londoners signed off the season in style, with Xhaka, Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Jesus and Jakub Kiwior all netting in a comprehensive 5-0 victory over Wolves – ultimately ending the campaign just five points shy of title winners Manchester City.
It is expected to be former skipper Xhaka’s final match in an Arsenal shirt, with the Swiss midfielder linked with a £15million move to Bayer Leverkusen this summer.
Before the match, Arteta refused to confirm whether the 30-year-old would depart but supporters already appeared resigned to his looming departure, with many holding up signs at the Emirates on Sunday thanking him for his service.
He was substituted in the 75th minute and received a standing ovation from the home crowd, while he looked quite emotional as he made his way to the dugout.
After the game, when Arsenal’s players did their lap of appreciation, Xhaka walked around slowly with his family behind the rest of the squad and seemed to give the impression that he was soaking up the Emirates atmosphere one last time.
In his post-match press conference, Arteta still refused to confirm whether Xhaka was leaving the club, saying: ‘Do you know that? That’s news to me.’
But he was a little more forthcoming in a separate interview with Match of the Day, speaking about Xhaka in the past tense and suggesting he was prepared to make some difficult decisions this summer.
‘He did what he needed to do and he has done it the whole season. He has been magnificent for us,’ said the Spanish coach.
‘I had the opportunity to say thank you. He is a player who had a special story and he has been integral.
‘It is part of my job to make the decisions that are best for the club. His story is really nice.’
Arsenal are looking to bolster their midfield this summer and have identified West Ham skipper Declan Rice as their top target, though he will likely cost in excess of £100m, while they have also been linked with Brighton’s Moises Caicedo.
The Gunners will need to sell players to raise funds and Xhaka could well be a casualty as a result, though Arteta is a massive fan of the Switzerland international and will clearly miss him if he does leave.
Asked about the reaction Xhaka received from fans, Arteta said: ‘Well deserved, he’s had an incredible season. I think one year back I spoke to him and I told him, “Question mark on you, you have to deliver more, you have to be better, I’m going to challenge you to play here”.
‘And I think he went back and started to train the next day, and he came to pre-season 4kg less, fit, with this [determined] face and really willing to do it. He’s been exceptional, he’s been a key part of the team and the team’s success and I am so happy that everybody is appreciating what he has done.’
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