Former Arsenal defender Nigel Winterburn believes Unai Emery has no choice but to take the captaincy off Granit Xhaka, who should apologise to the fans for his behaviour at the Emirates.
The 27-year-old midfielder told Gunners supporters to “f**k off” as they reacted to his substitution in Sunday’s 2-2 Premier League draw at home to Crystal Palace.
Arsenal had been two up after goals from Sokratis Papastathopoulos and David Luiz, but the visitors got back level through Luka Milivojevic’s spot-kick and Jordan Ayew’s second-half header.
Gunners boss Emery made the decision to replace Xhaka in the 61st minute — nine minutes after Palace had made it 2-2 — and it was sarcastically cheered by the home supporters before that turned to jeers as he took his time to leave the pitch.
This saw the Switzerland international, who is one of five captains at the club, wave his arms and cup his ears before he mouthed expletives to the crowd and decided to take off his shirt and head straight down the tunnel.
Winterburn told talkSPORT: “I think Unai Emery needs to take Xhaka out of the firing line in terms of the captaincy. He has five captains so he can easily do that.
“If he backs Xhaka, he will realise what supporting Arsenal Football Club is all about because if the supporters don’t agree with him — and they obviously don’t agree with Xhaka being captain at the moment — then the manager himself will come under increasing pressure.
“It has put Unai Emery in a very difficult situation. He has to deal with it very, very quickly. He can’t let it linger.”
During his 13 years at Arsenal, Winterburn admitted he felt the wrath of the Gunners fans at times, but said the best way to get them back on side was with consistent performances.
He did offer Xhaka a small crumb of comfort by reflecting on a time when right-back Hector Bellerin was booed by his own supporters — coincidentally during a league fixture with Palace in April 2017.
The Spanish defender did not react and soon won over the fanbase again.
“A lot of us have been substituted and been very disappointed, I have sat down and slapped water on the ground in frustration, but more in frustration at myself and the level of my performance not being good enough.
“I hope there is an apology because Xhaka needs to realise the supporters are the ones who adore Arsenal FC. They are so passionate about this club.
“Some years ago there was frustration around Bellerin, but there was no reaction from him and he got on with his performances and in the end the crowd were back on side. Now they are clambering for him to come back in the team again after his injury, so you have to be mentally strong.”
The decision to appoint Xhaka as captain, albeit based on a blind ballot by the squad, has drawn criticism with the Switzerland international a divisive figure among the fanbase.
Emery said after the game that his actions were “wrong” and said he would talk to Xhaka before deciding whether or not to strip him of the armband.
Bellerin, Arsenal’s third captain behind Xhaka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, did not play in the game as he continues to regain full fitness following a serious knee injury.
But the Spanish full-back took to Twitter yesterday morning to ask for everyone involved with the club to pull in the right direction.
“We are all humans, we all have emotions, and sometimes it’s not easy dealing with them.
“It’s time to lift each other up, not to push each other away. We only win when we are together,” he wrote.
Xhaka’s outburst came with director Josh Kroenke in attendance, as at least three former Arsenal captains — Pat Rice, David O’Leary and Thierry Henry — also watched on from the stands.