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Monday, November 28, 2022

Arsenal news: Granit Xhaka reveals he coached “very special” Ethan Nwaneri while taking UEFA B license

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GTECH COMMUNITY STADIUM, LONDON — Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka has revealed he is working towards a UEFA B coaching license, and has already coached wonderkid Ethan Nwaneri. 

The Gunners regained top spot in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon, with Xhaka playing a starring role in a 3-0 victory over Brentford. The Switzerland international dominated proceedings with an imperious midfield display and teed up Gabriel Jesus’ latest goal with a delicately lofted ball from just outside the penalty area. 

In addition to finishes from William Saliba and Fabio Vieira, Arsenal fans had something else to cheer late on, as Mikel Arteta handed a debut to the youngest player in Premier League history, in midfielder Nwaneri. 

Reflecting on the 15-year-old’s surprise appearance, a jovial Xhaka said: “You have to check the passport first! I’m joking. 

“Mikel is so smart, so clever, he knows before everyone. [Nwaneri is] not with us in training a lot. I saw him maybe twice or three times now. 

“He’s very shy, of course. We have to protect him, to take him on the side, because obviously football is not everything going up, not for him, not for anyone. He has to be prepared for that. The club is helping as well.

“The club can be proud of a player like him, to have someone like him with his future.” 

MORE: Who is Ethan Nwaneri?

Xhaka went on to reveal he has spent some time with Nwaneri as part of his coaching badges, as the 29-year-old begins to plan for his post-playing career. With the likes of Per Mertesacker and Jack Wilshere already embedded in the academy setup, there’s certainly plenty of inspiration for that transition. 

He continued: “I’m doing my coaching license and I trained him in the Under-16s. You can see a big difference to the other guys. He’s very special. 

“We have to protect him because he’s very young. If he keeps going like this, with this mentality, he has a big, big future. 

“I spoke with one Brentford guy – I told him this guy is 15. He told me: ‘f**k me, we are looking old’. 

“Of course when we have a 15-year difference [to Nwaneri], we think time is not gone, but is going away. 

“[I began the course] last March. I’m trying to do my next step. I’m nearly done with my B license. It depends on the week, when I have time. This week was twice, because we didn’t have a midweek game. I’m enjoying it.” 

Before he swaps his boots for a tactics board, though, Xhaka has plenty left in the tank for this resurgent Arsenal outfit. The victory in West London signalled the completion of his remarkable turnaround, as the Arsenal fans serenaded him at full-time. 

Indeed, Xhaka was infamously booed off and involved in a foul-mouthed exchange with the baying Emirates Stadium crowd in 2019, when he threw the captain’s armband to the floor after being substituted. 

It looked to be the end of the road at Arsenal for the former Borussia Monchengladbach star, who was stripped of the captaincy and continuing to make high-profile errors in key away games. 
Last August, he saw a proposed transfer to Roma collapse, before lining up for Arsenal in a chastening 2-0 loss here at Brentford in the opening game of the season. 

Reflecting on his journey, Xhaka said: “Absolutely, I never, ever was thinking one day [this would] happen, if I’m honest. 

“To be in front of them, singing my name, is very special, very emotional. I always wanted that, to give them something back after what happened. I was working a lot with the media staff to try and change the mind they had for me.

“After what happened three years ago, to be again captain, to be in front of this team, to have the fans back to my side means a lot to me.” 

The Premier League now takes a pause for the international break, with Arsenal having racked up six wins from seven heading into that first stoppage of the campaign, leading Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur by two points. 

Their only blip came last time out at Old Trafford — and even so, after an impressive performance against Manchester United — with Xhaka highlighting the impact of the immediate bounceback at Brentford.

He said: “Yeah, this was the issue for a couple of years – you lose against Man United, and after lose again and again and again. This year, I have a feeling it’s different. We saw today the result. 

“We have to enjoy where we are at the moment, but I am not looking at the table. There’s still a long way to go. But [it] gives us a lot of confidence to be where we are. 

“The teams are respecting us much better. They are seeing us [through] different eyes. It’s good to be there where we are, but it’s nothing to be proud [about] now.

“If you saw us one year ago, and you see us today, my opinion is a big bit different. ‘We smashed them’ is a bit too hard, because I want to respect them, but I think we deserved from the first minute to the 90th minute the win today. 

“It was clear [we were] the better team. We could’ve scored after one minute [through Gabriel] Martinelli. I’m very happy – this is the way we want to play. 

“It’s a process of learning. It’s a process of mentality. You saw it today: we are a different team, we [have a] different mentality in the team.”

That mental strength will next be tested in a hotly-anticipated derby against Spurs, flying high under Antonio Conte after pipping Arsenal to a UEFA Champions League spot at the backend of last season. 

Looking ahead to that showdown, Xhaka concluded: “We showed always against Tottenham a good game at home. I can’t remember losing one game at home since I [joined], so it’s always good. 

“It’s a big, big, big game not only for [the players] but the fans, the club. You can’t compare the Tottenham game with [any other] game in the season.” 

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