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‘I don’t want to relive this’ – Arteta reveals Xhaka fears Arsenal, hails midfielder response

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The Gunners midfielder came under heavy criticism for his red card against Burnley in December, but responded impressively

Mikel Arteta revealed that Granit Xhaka feared he would be the target of more abuse from sections of the Arsenal fan base following his sent off against Burnley and credited the midfielder for the way he responded to the incident.

Xhaka clashed with Ashley Westwood in the 1-0 loss to the Clarets in December and was sacked after grabbing the Burnley star around the neck and knocking him to the ground.

Arsenal were well in the lead at the time and seemed certain to continue and take the three points, but the game changed after the red card and Burnley took the win in the finals.

The incident came just over a year after Xhaka’s career at Arsenal came under question following his dramatic clash with Gunners fans in a 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace at the Emirates Stadium.

The Switzerland international – who was Arsenal captain at the time – was taunted off the pitch after being replaced by former boss Unai Emery and reacted with fury, gesturing at Arsenal fans and telling them from f * ck off.

Emery stripped Xhaka of the captain post after the incident and the 28-year-old looked certain to leave the club, until Arteta arrived and convinced him to stay.

The midfielder thrived under the Spaniard, but the red card against Burnley earlier this season threatened to derail all his hard work – his temper again called into question and some fans again targeting him for abuse in line.

But Xhaka has responded well and has arguably played his best football in an Arsenal shirt since returning from suspension, which Arteta believes shows his determination to succeed in north London.

“He’s had two big episodes,” said the Arsenal boss. “Maybe you can get over one of these problems, but I think the second time around it really shocks you and he said, ‘I don’t want to do it again’.

“But that’s what we’re here for, to try to support our players. I think the club were exceptional in giving him all their support. We try to do the same, the teammates did the same, and he came back.

“Now he’s getting a lot of praise, the way he plays, and that’s because of his character. It’s also how much he wants to be successful at the club.

Xhaka and summer signing Thomas Partey begin to form an impressive partnership in the heart of the Arsenal midfielder, with the pair complementing each other’s play well.

They were excellent at Wolves again on Tuesday night and dominated the game before the red card to David Luiz upset the game just before half-time.

Arsenal then lost the game 2-1, their first league loss in 2021, but Arteta felt there were a lot of positives to take away, with Xhaka’s performance being a highlight.

“I thought he was excellent,” said the Spaniard. “He was really consistent. I think he’s improving game by game.

“Then there is also his level of leadership, he has matured a lot as a player and he is very important in this dressing room. On the pitch, I think he’s doing a lot, a lot better than before too.

“He’s a really important player for us. Since I’ve been here, I think he’s played almost every game – and there’s no better way to show how much you love and appreciate a player than to give him minutes on the pitch.

Arteta added: “His balance with Thomas is strengthening, they haven’t played a lot together and that chemistry needs to flourish.

“But I think they improve each other and we have a good balance of left and right footers in those spaces as well.”