Mikel Arteta says Granit Xhaka’s development in the last two seasons and the midfielder’s experience were key factors in the decision to keep him this summer despite interest from AS Roma.
The Serie A side are understood to have agreed personal terms with the Switzerland international prior to the European Championships but, ultimately, failed to make an offer that came anywhere near the Gunners’ valuation of the midfielder.
Since then, it’s been reported that Arsenal have triggered a clause in Xhaka’s existing contract to keep him until 2024 with an option to extend it for another 12 months.
“We never wanted to let him go,” said Arteta. “We explained to him the role he’d have in the team, how important he was and how far he’s come in the last two seasons and the fact he’s come through some difficult moments and how he has reacted and what he has achieved, not just on the field but around the football club and in the dressing room.
“We believe that he’s a very important figure and players like that are what we need as well for all the young developing players that we have in the team.”
Arteta admits that for those who only see Xhaka on the pitch, it’s hard to comprehend the former captain’s influence in and around the club.
“It’s difficult because what happens inside, you don’t get to see much. Sometimes you’re just analysing a performance or the way a player is playing and whether you like him more or less. From our side there is no doubt about the importance of him in the team and the squad.”
While Xhaka remains a constant, the squad as a whole has undergone significant surgery in recent months. The arrivals of Martin Odegaard, Ben White, Nuno Tavares, Sambi Lokonga and Aaron Ramsdale, all under the age of 24, speaks to a project with eyes on the future.
“Together with the senior players that we have, we had to define a model that can be sustainable; short, medium and long-term,” said Arteta ahead of Sunday’s game with Chelsea.
“We had to address a lot of issues that we had in our squad balance. We are doing that bringing in quality players in different stages and education of their careers but they can fit perfectly with what we are trying to do. And we will continue to do that.
“Some with experience in the Premier League already, some they are coming from abroad with great education. As well, I think you can see the level that they have and the margin for improvement and development.”
Arteta was also at pains to stress that Martin Odegaard’s arrival from Real Madrid – a £35 million deal completed on Friday – can only be a good thing for Emile Smith Rowe on whom so much expectation rests.
“We want Emile to be in a better place to develop him,” said Arteta.
“Having alternatives in that position, they are players that can perfectly fit together. They’ve shown that together last year. We cannot rely on one player.
“We already lost a lot of creative players we cannot rely on one player to put everything on his shoulders. Emile has not played 50 games at that level yet in his career. We will need to protect him and for sure, we need other players who can do that.”