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Martin Keown defends Arsenal's bold decision on player who has 'never been a fan's favourite'

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Former Arsenal star Martin Keown has defended Mikel Arteta’s decision to keep hold of Granit Xhaka amid interest from AS Roma.

Jose Mourinho was desperate to sign the Swiss international this summer. The Giallorossi tried long and hard to get a deal done, but they could not meet our asking price and Edu refused to budge.

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Soon after the move collapsed, Edu and Arteta decided it makes more sense to keep hold of Xhaka and extend his contract. Keown, who has been critical of the midfielder before, believes that the Gunners are right to do what they’re reportedly doing.

Keown: I understand why Arteta wants to keep Xhaka

The legendary Gunners centre-back told The Mirror: “I think Granit Xhaka who has never been a fan’s favourite is now becoming an important player with Thomas Partey missing the start of the season. If he is going to play, you need to get the right partnership and pieces around him.

“I think when David Luiz was there, Arsenal were playing quite deep so it’s important to get the distances between the lines right and have a midfield that protects the defence. They’ve got to gel together. I think Xhaka offers a level of leadership for a young group that is maybe not there. And Arteta may feel if he can’t get other players that he targets then he wants him at the football club.

“It’s a juggling act, keeping what you got and building for the future. It appears to be that Xhaka is a really important leader within the group and if Arteta feels he needs to give him a new contract to secure that and is an element in the team that he needs then I understand that.

“I thought he had one of his best seasons in an Arsenal shirt and there were goals he was blamed for that weren’t necessarily his fault. You would have thought they are looking at other options as well to develop that area to become a team that can win the Premier League.”

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The Insider’s View:

It’s never ideal to keep hold of a player who wants to leave. Xhaka certainly wanted to move to Roma and Arsenal’s bold decision to change his mind raised a few eyebrows. However, it really is a no-brainer.

In an extremely difficult post-pandemic market, finding a top-quality central midfielder is not easy. Selling Xhaka for about £20 million wouldn’t have been a bad idea, but his replacement would’ve surely cost us twice that fee, if not more.

Read more: Arteta says Arsenal board didn’t even consult him before making key 2021/22 decision

Keeping hold of Xhaka is certainly a bold decision, but it’s absolutely the right one. He was one of our best players last season and if he can maintain the same level this term, we shouldn’t have too many problems in the middle of our park.

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