close
close

Arsenal transfer news LIVE: Gunners announce £27m signing, latest on Nico Williams, Riccardo Calafiori in talks

Emirates favourite Rice against “Ballon d'Or called” Xhaka

It didn't take long for Rice-Mania to hit the Emirates last season.

After scoring the last-minute winning goal at home to Manchester United in his fifth competitive appearance, Arsenal's £105 million signing Declan Rice was greeted with MC Hammer and “Rice Rice Baby” from the stands after the game.

The admiration for the 25-year-old English midfielder grew exponentially from then on and is unlikely to disappear any time soon. He was an instant fan favourite.

As the Three Lions prepare for tomorrow's European Championship quarter-final in Düsseldorf against Switzerland, we should spare a thought for the man he replaced: Swiss captain Granit Xhaka.

What would Xhaka have given to be embraced by the fans in north London like Rice.

After his move in the summer of 2016, Xhaka quickly became part of Arsenal's problem at the time – a symbol of the Arsene Wenger era, in which the club turned away from the fight for the big names and settled for mediocrity.

Unai Emery's managerial role sparked a scandal in October 2019 when he told his own fans to “fuck off” for cheering his second-half substitution in a 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace. Xhaka was later stripped of his captain's armband and Emery was sacked just over a month later.

Under Mikel Arteta, he was brought back into the team, persuaded to stay and earned back the respect of the fans, but in truth he was never able to fully restore that relationship.

That's why his departure when he joined Bayer Leverkusen for £21.4 million in May 2023 was not a devastating loss, but rather a mutual farewell. It felt like a win for both sides.

Nobody could have imagined that twelve months later he would be in the form he is in today, leading the Swiss through an impressive European Championship campaign after playing a crucial role in Leverkusen's undefeated Bundesliga championship season under Xabi Alonso.

One Swiss newspaper even suggested that the 31-year-old should compete for the Ballon d'Or. It was once a ridiculous idea, but today it doesn't seem so far-fetched.