Mikel Arteta remained tight-lipped about the future of Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka but was pleased to see him get the appreciation he deserved after their 5-0 thrashing of Wolves.
Xhaka netted a first-half double in what is expected to be his final appearance for the Gunners with a summer exit to Bayer Leverkusen in the works and left the pitch to a standing ovation in the 75th minute with supporters’ urging him to stay.
It completes a remarkable turnaround for the Swiss international, who saw his relationship with the Emirates crowd reach an all-time low in the winter of 2019 during a home match with Crystal Palace where he chucked his shirt on the floor before subsequently being stripped of the captaincy.
Arteta convinced Xhaka not to leave Arsenal during the following transfer window and his brace on the final-day saw the 30-year-old finish the campaign with nine goals, his best ever tally.
Asked about Xhaka’s impending departure, Arteta responded: “You know that?
“It’s news for me.”
The Gunners boss was more forthcoming about the reception Xhaka received before, during and after the emphatic victory over Wolves.
“Well deserved. He’s had an incredible season,” Arteta said.
“I think one year back I spoke to him and I told him ‘there’s a question mark on you, you have to deliver more, you have to be better, I’m going to challenge you to play here.’
“He went back and I think he started to train the next day. He came back in preseason four kilos less, fit, with this (focused) face and really willing to do it. He’s been exceptional.
“He’s been a key part of the team, the success of the team and I’m so happy everybody is appreciating what he’s done.”
While the final-day clash was not the league title celebration Arsenals fans would have hoped for back in April, when they held an eight-point lead over champions Manchester City, Arteta’s side still concluded their campaign in front of a party atmosphere.
After Xhaka’s quickfire double, Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Jesus and Jakub Kiwior netted to earn the hosts a 26th league win of the campaign.
When Arteta addressed the packed Emirates crowd after full-time, he was repeatedly serenaded and the Spaniard expressed his delight at finishing on a good note.
He added: “It was really nice the way they transmitted their love and support to the team, to every player, and obviously to me as well.
“It’s been a really emotional year and a very special season. The team and our people deserved to end it in a good way so I’m really happy.
“It was one of my big dreams to connect again with the soul of this football club – that’s our people. We have done that and there’s no discussion about it. That makes me really proud and grateful to be part of that journey together.
“We want to deliver together success and the destination has to be trophies and success for this club, but we have to enjoy the journey together and especially the company.
“I said it especially there because we have special people in this club, an incredible group of players and an amazing support.
“That has to be enjoyed because at the end it’s about winning or not winning the margin, but you cannot underestimate those other things. I think if we don’t do it then we will regret it.”
It proved a memorable finish for Arsenal, but not for Wolves or their manager Julen Lopetegui.
Lopetegui’s future is uncertain given the financial troubles of the Molineux club and he warned another “miracle” is not guaranteed next season.
“We have lost against one of the best teams in the Premier League but the way we have lost, I am not happy,” he said.
“I don’t want to forgot that the second part of season the team has made has been fantastic, being out of relegation (zone) three matches before end.
“That is why I highlight the merit of the players. Maybe it (survival) has been a little miracle and we have to learn for the future.
“Maybe one miracle is possible, two no. That is why you have to learn for the future to be able to improve and do our hard work.”