Granit Xhaka should apologise for his immature behaviour after being substituted against Crystal Palace recently. He was wrong to goad the booing home fans by cupping his ear to their jeers, for failing to acknowledge Unai Emery, for ripping off his shirt and for then storming down the tunnel. Being Arsenal captain, it makes his actions even more indefensible and childish, especially as the Gunners were left to play out a frustrating 2-2 draw with the Eagles.
However, the reaction towards him from the fans was also wrong. Whether Xhaka should be Arsenal captain in the first place is a separate talking point and the Palace game was not the first time he has been jeered by Arsenal fans. The Swiss international has divided opinion since he signed for club in 2016, and again when he was appointed club captain, after a drawn-out process by Emery that involved a player’s vote.
But after his behaviour when being substituted, perhaps Xhaka’s relationship with the Arsenal fans is now completely broken. There is a definite blame culture at Arsenal, something that has hungover the club for years. The events of the weekend have proved that the departure of Arsene Wenger has not affected the total disconnect felt between the fans and those in charge. This is a far from unique situation to Arsenal, but it feels that at every game at the Emirates Stadium, everyone is constantly on the edge and it doesn’t take much for tempers to blow.
Throughout football there seems to exist a sense of entitlement to abuse players. It is seen as part of the game, and as the paying customer, you have the right to voice your opinions. Perhaps it is a phenomenon driven by social media, where players and managers are expected to tolerate abuse, whether online or in the stadiums.
But are football clubs, agents and players also responsible for this disconnection? Have they helped create this huge divide between player and fan? Footballers, especially in the Premier League, are now so far removed from the supporters and with little genuine interaction. They live in a millionaire’s bubble that makes them off limits, almost unreal, which means fans react to them as if they are without feelings and who should not be capable of making mistakes.
The clubs don’t help by encouraging a hero-status, or god-like standing of their players, sugar-coating anything to do. The only time fans actually see the players is when they are out on the pitch, but these well-paid people, who often jump from club to club without the same loyalty levels of a fan, are adored when doing well, but vilified when they’re not.
A phrase that is often attached to criticism in the modern game is that fans have paid their money and therefore have the right to vent their feelings, anger, and frustration. Unfortunately, this is an atmosphere that football itself has created.