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Today's Mr Arsenal? How old-school values saw Granit Xhaka rescue Gunners career

COMMENT: He just stuck at it, didn't he? Granit Xhaka. Three years on from being stripped of the captaincy. Those same Arsenal fans that jeered him are now singing his name...

It's persistence personified. The Swiss never gave up. He never shirked responsibility. Always available. Always eager. A players' player. One appreciated inside the dressing room, if not in the stands.

But that was back then. Now? Today? Xhaka is being celebrated. By the fans. The press. Even those celeb Gooners on social media. There's no apology, of course. But even the clout chasers now sing his praises.

As we say, it all came down to persistence from Xhaka. Belief. Both from within himself, but also from his manager. Mikel Arteta refused to sell Xhaka. He had his opportunities. Not least from the Bundesliga. And of course we had Jose Mourinho's AS Roma pushing hard for the player last year. Indeed, Xhaka was tempted, but after talks with Arteta it was agreed the partnership should go on.

And it's been a decision that has Xhaka in not only the best form of his career, but also the best moment of his football life. It's a result of both his commitment and also the belief his manager has in him.

The fans are now singing his name. The relationship between Xhaka and the support epitomising the "connection", as he puts it, now being felt between the playing group and the fans.

"It was an absolutely amazing, amazing feeling for me, because everybody knows what I went through with the fans," wrote Xhaka in this week's match programme. "That's in the past now.

“To turn it round and be able to show them the Granit that I always wanted to show them, to feel connected and feel their love gave me much, much, much more self-belief, and also more desire to give them something back.

“So hopefully we can stay with this connection now, not just with me, but with all the players, because it's very important for us to feel the love from the fans."

For those online consistently raising why the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil are gone, while Xhaka stayed, well, the answer has long been staring you in the face.

Play left-back? No problem, gaffer. On a wing? I can do that. Xhaka is Arteta's problem solver - particularly last season. If there was a hole to be filled, the manager would invariably turn to Xhaka - even fielding him at centre-half at one stage.

But this season, the approach has been flipped. Arteta seeing something in his defensive midfielder that others hadn't. Goals. Chances. Creativity. Not aspects associated with Xhaka, especially when he's wearing a Gunners shirt. But Arteta thought differently. He could see Xhaka's game having more to offer than your routine water carrier - even if the player, himself, couldn't. Again, it simply came down to belief.

So Xhaka, with that selfless attitude, accepted Arteta's suggestion. He was pushed into a more advanced position in the manager's system. And after some growing pains, he is absolutely flying.

That's on the pitch. Off it. Inside the dressing room. Nothing has changed. The armband - officially - may now be Martin Odegaard's, but it is Xhaka who drives this team. If a teammate needs a revv-up, Arteta has Xhaka do his work for him. If a young player needs a lift, Xhaka will be the one to pump up his tyres. It's why his teammates love him. For all the flak he copped when things were running against him, Xhaka was never abandoned by his fellow players. Nor Arteta or his staff. There's few automatic selections in this squad, but if Xhaka is fit, he plays.

Xhaka is an every man. A man for every generation. John Jensen recently spoke with about his time at Highbury; mixing with the likes of Paul Merson and Lee Dixon; being slapped across the face by Tony Adams as pre-match motivation. A different time. A different era - a winning era. And also one Xhaka, for his football, his personality, his commitment, would not look out of place in. Tony Adams is Mr Arsenal, we all know that. But has there been a better Arsenal story these past ten years than Granit Xhaka?

Three years ago, you just couldn't see it. But he just stuck at it, didn't he? The songs, the praise, the form. Everything that is coming to him now a reward for sheer persistence.

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Chris Beattie
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