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Arsenal's Xhaka: Social media abusers not real fans, killing football

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Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka said social media abuse is killing football but that he is "not scared" to play in front of fans again despite being targeted for online abuse.

The 28-year-old has endured a stormy relationship with Gunners supporters ever since arriving from Borussia Monchengladbach for £34 million in May 2016.

Xhaka has often been singled out for criticism and the midfielder reacted furiously when his substitution was cheered by the Emirates Stadium crowd during a Premier League game against Crystal Palace in October 2019. He threw his shirt to the ground and told supporters to "f--- off" in an incident which led to him being stripped of the captaincy by then boss Unai Emery.

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"It is one of many [examples], if I am honest," Xhaka, speaking ahead of Arsenal's Europa League round-of-32 second leg against Benfica said. "If I showed the others what they write, I think I have to close my social media, everyone has to close social media. I say that before and I will say that now and in the future as well, it is only about me.

"They are not supporters of my club. I do not see them as supporters of my club -- to support the club they have to be here if we lose, we draw or we win... But if one guy is a ticket holder at the club and speaks like this about his own players I don't think he needs respect from our side or other people.

"I am the guy who is on the pitch. It is not my wife, it is not my little one, it is not my family. So if you want to criticise someone, no problem to criticise me like a person, like a player. But don't make the other people involved because they have nothing to do with my job.

"So you have to open our eyes and to look after this a lot, because I think you kill the football like this if the people start to speak about a player or their families or things like this."

"Secondly, I have a lot of help from the club because this is something we have to speak very openly about. You don't have to be quiet and say: 'Yeah, I keep it with me,' because it is not always easy.

"I wish I could meet the people who write me the things, to sit with them, eyes by eyes and to ask them, why are you writing things like this? Not only for me personally, because it happens a lot in the last few weeks, but only to know what he is feeling in this moment when he writes things like this. This is not acceptable."

The British government this week outlined plans for supporters to return to stadia in time for the end of the league season in May and when asked whether he has been happy to play behind closed doors given his history, Xhaka replied: "Not really, I'm not a guy who is scared or afraid to play in front of our fans -- never, ever.

"I love the club and I respect the people around the team as well. I wish we could play with the fans because they would push us more and more and more.

"But the situation is what it is and hopefully things will change as quickly as possible to have the fans back and work together, to see we are improving and we want to take the next step as a club -- this is what I wish."

An Arsenal spokesperson said in a statement the club provides psychological and legal support for players suffering online abuse, and continues to celebrate diversity as well as enforcing a zero tolerate approach to discrimination.

"As a club we are committing to using our voice and network to strengthen measures and action taken by relevant authorities to punish those responsible for this abuse which affects us all. Where any individual is found to have an Arsenal membership, they will be banned. We are working with the authorities to report abuse to the police. We cannot and will not let hateful abuse become a normalised part of the game," the statement added.

"We all need to work together to drive this behaviour out. This includes clubs, governing bodies, fans, media and politicians; but requires the help and commitment of social media companies. We cannot underestimate the impact abuse has on individuals and the recent spate of abuse needs to be a wake-up call."