Xhaka was wrong, but so were the fans who think abusing players is acceptable

First of all Granit Xhaka does need to apologise.

He was wrong to walk off slowly when substituted. He was wrong to goad the booing fans. He was wrong to cup his ear to their jeers. He was wrong to swear. He was wrong not to acknowledge Unai Emery. He was wrong to rip off his shirt. He was wrong to storm down the tunnel.

It would all have been wrong even if Xhaka was not the Arsenal captain but given he has that office, that status it was all the more wrong.

It was all the more immature. It was all the more unprofessional as Arsenal played out their frustrating draw at home to Crystal Palace.

But the reaction towards him was also wrong. More wrong.

There is outrage that Xhaka snapped in a game which was bursting with anger and where he had again not played well.

It was as if the fans felt they have the right to be upset but he did not share that right with some even arguing that they are the “paying customers” and entitled to be abusive and so he simply has to suck it up.

Whether Xhaka should be Arsenal captain in the first place is a moot point.

The Swiss midfielder is a popular character in the dressing room, a hard-working player and one who was desperate for signs of progress following the change of manager after Arsene Wenger, the man who signed him for £30m in 2016, eventually stepped down.

But Sunday was not the first time he was jeered by Arsenal fans. Far from it.

Xhaka has divided opinion almost from the moment he signed and when he was appointed captain, after an unnecessarily prolonged process by Emery involving a players vote, the manager admitted: “His challenge, and our challenge, is to change opinion.”

Arsenal and Xhaka, who is 27 and should be at his peak but whose confidence is so clearly shot, are failing in that challenge.

Maybe Xhaka’s relationship with the Arsenal fans is now broken beyond repair which might well lead to another captain, after Laurent Koscielny in the summer, forcing his way out or being sold. That would say much of the state of the fractured club at present.

The blame game hangs heavy at Arsenal and has done so for years.

What the events of the weekend proved is that removing Wenger, although it had to happen, has not affected the disconnect that exists between supporting a team and believing there is also a transactional relationship that legitimises abuse.

That disconnect is far from unique to Arsenal although any visitor to the Emirates will witness that it is a stadium more consistently on an edge than any other in the country. It does not take much for it to ‘go off’.

In football there exists a sense of entitlement that abusing players is fair game and is, in fact, part of the game. It is the transaction; the price to pay; the right that is somehow being purchased along with a ticket or a subscription.

It is a modern phenomenon that has grown through the social media age where it appears players and managers are expected to have a tolerance threshold that is way beyond what should be regarded as acceptable in society.

What is so uncomfortable is the consistent targeting of certain players.

Fans feel they are part of the drama beyond supporting their club and venting natural frustration.

There are platforms such as AFTV (Arsenal Fan TV) which bills itself as “for the fans by the fans”, which has one million plus subscribers and which encourages extreme opinions. It is a medium that profits on failure and baiting.

Post-Palace the verdict of one of the fans interviewed on camera was that Xhaka should never play for Arsenal again and should be sold in January.

In fairness he conceded that the “fans were out of order” with their reaction but, tellingly, he said: “But this is modern-day football. Social media, fans, they have a go at you. It comes with the territory now.”

But does it or – rather – should it come with the territory? Football clubs, agents, players they are all hugely culpable. They created this. They permitted it to happen.

Players are so far removed from the fans, they have so little genuine interaction and live in a millionaire’s bubble that it makes them not just remote but almost other-worldly.

Fans therefore react to them as if they are unreal or not even human beings and certainly not human beings with feelings or who are capable of making mistakes.

It does not help that their infallible hero-status is encouraged by clubs who sugar-coat anything to do with players and who create an environment where they try and make it not just superficial when they deal with the media and the outside world but where they are regarded as different.

There is so little contact between players and supporters.

It means that the only time fans actually see the players is when they are out on the pitch which heightens the extremes of hero-worship or, when things go wrong, abuse and demonising.

No-one is expecting Xhaka to hang around his local coffee shop, football has become too big for that, but it would maybe be a little different if footballers were not treated so differently.

The cost of football is a factor. A phrase attached to criticism in the modern-game, as espoused on vehicles such as AFTV, is that fans have paid their money and therefore have the right to vent their anger, frustration, abuse.

That it is a price football has to pay for charging such high prices.

Unfortunately, football has created this derision.