Granit Xhaka says players and fans need to treat each other with more “honesty and respect” after admitting he was close to quitting Arsenal because of the “pure hate” he received.
“When I close my eyes now, I can still see their faces. I can see their anger,” he told the Players’ Tribune.
“The passports were out. I was done with Arsenal. Finished.”
The incident occurred when Xhaka was jeered by his own fans as he was substituted during a Premier League match against Crystal Palace at Emirates Stadium.
Xhaka reacted by waving and cupping his ear sarcastically to the home support, exchanging words before taking off his shirt and disappearing down the tunnel.
“I had barely begun to move when I heard the boos. And it was not just a few guys in the corner – it was a lot of people. I was shocked. I had never experienced anything like this,” said Xhaka.
“This is hate. Pure hate. I am really not exaggerating this.
“To feel that level of hatred and disrespect – I wouldn’t want it for my worst enemy. Still to this day, if we have lost, I hate walking those last metres to the tunnel, because I still recognise the faces. The same people are sitting there.
“So now, I just keep my head down. I lived through that nightmare once. I don’t ever want to do it again.”
One of the criticisms regularly directed at Xhaka by Arsenal fans is his perceived lack of discipline, with the 29-year-old having been sent off five times since joining the Gunners from Borussia Monchengladbach in 2016.
Xhaka insists, however, that physicality is part of the game and says he will not change his style of play.
“When we are losing, I know what people are saying about me,” he said. “When we are playing well, nobody says anything, but I know what people think. I don’t forget what I hear. ‘He gets too many cards. He’s killing our game.’
“Listen, the cards have always been part of my game. They were in Germany, too. Remember the 50-50? I’m all in, and it’s the same in training. If I elbow a player, I’ll be the first one to say, ‘I’m sorry.’
“But a tackle? Come on, guys. This is not ballet.”
Xhaka subsequently decided to stay at Arsenal after talks with new boss Mikel Arteta, who succeeded Unai Emery two months after the incident against Crystal Palace.
He admits his relationship with the supporters will never be the same, but has called for an end to the abuse and vitriol some footballers have to endure.
“It’s like broken glass, you know? You can piece it together, but the cracks will always be there,” he said.
“I would like us to have a better relationship. I would like us to understand each other better.
“I understand that we will never be best friends, but I hope we can treat each other with honesty and respect. I want you to know that whatever I do on the pitch, it comes from the right place.
“Yes, for 90 minutes I am Granit Xhaka, Arsenal midfielder. But the rest of the week I’m just a Swiss guy living in London with his wife and two kids.”