Creative Soccer Culture

In Conversation | Granit Xhaka

Six months into his inaugural season in the Premier League Granit Xhaka has already experienced the rapid highs and lows of fast paced fixtures in England's top flight. As he swaps the pitch for Under Armour photoshoot duties we sit down with the Arsenal midfielder to see how life in North London is treating him.

Granit. You made it no secret that playing in the Premier League was always an ambition of yours. Now you're here, is it different to what you expected?

Ever since I was a child it's been a dream of mine to play in the Premier League and I'm now really happy to be at a club like Arsenal with its history and importance. I was in touch with Arsenal for a while before I signed so I had a good idea of what to expect before I actually signed for the club. Everything I was anticipating and was hoping for has come true, it's a great place to be. The Premier League is tough, I knew it would be tough, but I'm enjoying it.

How do you rate your first season so far at Arsenal? Do you feel like you're still in a transitional phase?

I feel like I've adjusted to the pace of the league already and I feel like I've settled into the club well. You always need a certain amount of time to fully adjust, it was no different when I moved to the Bundesliga, it'll take time for me to reach my full potential here but I'm really happy with how I've started at the club so far.

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What effect has Arsene Wenger had on you since you signed for Arsenal?

Before I came to Arsenal I knew exactly what Arsene Wenger would expect of me. I knew what Arsenal's style of football was all about – high speed transitions in the midfield and going forward with pace, so that was perfect for me because I didn't have to change my game, it suited my style already.

The first contact I ever had with Arsene Wenger was via telephone. He told me things about my game that he liked and how I could fit into his plans. It's an absolute honour to play for a manager like Wenger. He has so much experience, so much success and he's been with the club for such a long time and it's fantastic to learn from him. It's very special to have him as a coach.

How does the coaching at Arsenal compare to the coaching at Borussia Monchengladbach?

The training sessions are shorter at Arsenal with an extreme high intensity. The physical intensity of the training sessions at Arsenal are on a greater level compared to the Bundesliga where the sessions are longer and more technical.

You're known for aggression on the pitch. Who's the toughest player you've played against in your career?

The toughest player I've ever played with is my old teammate at Monchengladbach, Håvard Nordtveit, who is now at West Ham. Even in training his intensity and aggression was something else, you always want to be on the same team as him in training. When it comes to opposition then it has to be Nigel de Jong when we played the Dutch National Team, he was one I didn't want to upset!

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Which players have surprised you the most at Arsenal?

Alex Iwobi. I wouldn't say it's a surprise but he's someone I didn't know much about before I signed for Arsenal. He's really impressed me, he's one of the best young players at the club and he's got everything you'd want in an attacking player. He's fast, strong and a great finisher.

There's a lot of midfield talent at Arsenal, especially in the centre. Who do you enjoy playing with the most?

It's not my job to pick which player I enjoy playing with the most. Every player in the squad has particular strengths and I have a good relationship with everyone on and off the pitch. I'm lucky to play with world class players, whoever plays.

Your goals against Nottingham Forest and Hull are contenders for goals of the season. What was the reaction of your teammates, friends and family after those goals?

The reaction was actually smaller than anticipated because my friends and family have seen me score those types of goals lots of times before! My teammates were really happy for me and my long range shooting is something I work hard on in training so it was pleasing to see them go in. Hopefully I can score more.

What did you make of the busy Chirstmas period in the Premier League. What was it like having no winter break?

I was really looking forward to it. There was a real buzz around the country and the tradition of the Boxing Day fixtures. My teammates from the national team told me how good the atmosphere is on Boxing Day and how special it is and they were right. You want to play in front of full stadiums and the atmosphere is definitely a bit more exciting than usual. I love playing football so I'd play any day of the week!

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You're here with Under Armour today. Do you take pride in being one of just a few players to wear Under Armour in the Premier League?

I'm very much a family person and I feel part of a family with Under Armour. I've got a really close relationship with the guys at Under Armour and they really take care of everything that I need to ensure that I can perform with the best products available. The Clutchfit 3.0 boot is perfect for me and I work closely with Under Armour to ensure it has everything I need from it. The material, the weight, the feel are all great. I'm proud to represent them in the Premier League.

When you google Granit Xhaka one of the first results in 'Granit Xhaka Hair'. Have you found someone in London to look after it!?

[Laughs] I do it myself! No, I've found someone in London that can take care of it and I'm happy with it! 

Sharp. What did you think of Aaron Ramsey's blonde hair at EURO 2016?

I don't care, as long as mine looks good!

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Granit Xhaka was talking at the launch of the Under Armour Clutchfit 3.0. Want a pair? You can get them here.

Photography by David Ellis for SoccerBible.


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