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Sunday 8 December 2019

Xhaka needs to find x-factor

New captain not a fan favourite as United may face injury loss of Pogba

Granit Xhaka has been made Arsenal’s new club captain
Granit Xhaka has been made Arsenal’s new club captain

Unai Emery has called on Granit Xhaka to "stand up" and change the opinion of the majority of Arsenal fans after he was chosen by his team-mates to be the club's new captain.

The Gunners head coach held a blind vote among his squad to decide on his new skipper, with Xhaka winning the vote having worn the armband in six of the first eight games of the campaign.

Emery had a leadership group of five players last year but three of those - Laurent Koscielny, Petr Cech and Aaron Ramsey - departed over the course of the summer.

The Spaniard revealed that, for this season, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Hector Bellerin, Alexandre Lacazette and Mesut Ozil will be his other captains, in order, should Xhaka not play.

"First, he is mature and he has experience and we are living all the time under pressure, under criticism as coaches, as players, as a club," Emery said of his new captain.

"The most important thing is to stand up in each moment, go ahead and show his quality, with his behaviour, with his commitment and in the dressing room the players voted for him as the first."

Xhaka, who turned 27 yesterday, was jeered by sections of the Emirates Stadium as he was substituted in Sunday's 3-2 win over Aston Villa.

But Emery, who defended Xhaka following that incident, believes the high regard in which he is held among his team-mates can be replicated among the fanbase.

"I spoke with him and we want to change that opinion outside because that respect that he has inside, is very, very important," he added.

"And also show outside, keep moving ahead, playing, improving, your behaviour, commitment and each match for him, for me, for everybody, is a very good opportunity to show our capacity.

"I trust and believe in him and he is a good man, a good professional and a good player. Sometimes he has made a mistake, yes, but the most important thing is to analyse, to learn and to correct that in the future.

"His challenge, and our challenge, is to change that opinion and above all, show personality and improve in each match and give us his help every time. The first match is on Monday at Manchester United."

Emery could potentially have a new-look back-four for the trip to Old Trafford, given his side have kept one clean sheet in the Premier League since mid-April.

Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin returned from long-term knee injuries in the midweek League Cup win over Nottingham Forest, while summer signing Kieran Tierney made his debut following a groin complaint.

"It was amazing to see the people's reaction to Rob Holding, Kieran Tierney and Hector Bellerin, who played his first 15 minutes," Emery said of his fit-again defenders. "It was a great moment. We can be a better competitive team with them. For us having every player available is the perfect moment.

"Now we have two injuries with Alexandre Lacazette (ankle) and Emile Smith Rowe (concussion), and hopefully in a few weeks he can be training with the possibility to play."

Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba is a doubt for Monday's game because of a swollen ankle suffered in the League Cup win over Rochdale in midweek.

The Frenchman was back in action for the first time since injuring his ankle at Southampton last month and completed 90 minutes in the third-round clash against their League One opponents at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Pogba did not take a penalty in the shootout victory and did not attend a team bonding dinner following the fixture, but Solskjaer attempted to squash any scrutiny by revealing the 26-year-old's ankle had flared up again.

The Norwegian said: "The situation is he finished the game, which is fantastic but he got a knock to his ankle which is very swollen.

"It was better for him not to go there (to the dinner) with the team and he's in a race, I would guess, for Monday."

As for the availability of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, who are struggling with thigh and groin complaints respectively, Solskjaer added: "I wouldn't put my life on it, no.

"That's part of this game, you work with what you have."

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