Mikel Arteta has acknowledged one of his primary tasks as Arsenal head coach is to repair the fracture between supporters and club, as Granit Xhaka looks set to leave north London.
A disastrous run of form under the previous manager, Unai Emery, widened the disconnect and fans have also vented their anger at the Arsenal board. Supporters’ groups issuing a joint statement last month directed at the owner, Stan Kroenke, in which they expressed their “grave concerns”, notably the club’s “seemingly inexorable slide” down the Premier League.
Xhaka, who spent a month on the sidelines under Emery following his reaction to being substituted against Crystal Palace in October, has reportedly agreed terms with Hertha Berlin with the Bundesliga club having offered €25m to sign the Switzerland international despite Arteta stating this week that his future is in north London.
“Look, I will say it frankly and honestly, we are in agreement with Hertha BSC and would like to go to Berlin,” Xhaka’s agent, José Noguera, told the Swiss publication Blick. “We told Arsenal’s [head of football] Raul Sanllehi and sports director Edu as well as the new coach Mikel Arteta. Arsenal were informed about all the steps, the player and Hertha are clear. It is only the transfer fee for the clubs.”
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Xhaka’s replacement as captain, ran to celebrate his equaliser at Bournemouth on Boxing Day with the fans and Arteta made a point of thanking the supporters at the final whistle. Arsenal host Chelsea on Sunday and Arteta recognises improved performances and results will help to win back apathetic fans after one win from 11 league games.
“Hopefully we can change it,” Arteta said when asked about negativity among the fan base. “First I need to convince the players and then, if I can convince the players, afterwards we can convince the fans. I think it’s very, very important in my job. At the end of the day they’re expecting a lot from us. We have to give them enjoyment, we have to make their lives better and, when we win, it will be better because they will be happier. It’s our responsibility and we have to do everything we can to achieve that.”
At the halfway stage of the season Arsenal are closer to the relegation zone than they are to the Champions League places – they are six points above 18th‑placed Aston Villa and eight behind Chelsea in fourth– and Arteta noted the importance of fuelling positivity around the club. “I think energy is everything, in life, in football and in sports,” he said. “If we are able to generate this it will give us a lift.
“I was really pleased with how the fans treated the players [against Bournemouth] and I was happy that the players went to see the fans after the game as well because we need that connection. Slowly, we need to build that back to where it was. It’s going to be very powerful for us to use that.”