Online abuse of players and families will 'kill football', says Xhaka

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Premier League - Southampton v Arsenal - St Mary's Stadium, Southampton, Britain - January 26, 2021 Arsenal's Granit Xhaka Pool via REUTERS/Naomi Baker

(Reuters) - Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka believes online abuse of players and their families will "kill football" and said fans who have targeted him on social media are not genuine supporters of the north London club.

A number of players have been targeted online this season, with Xhaka revealing he and his family have suffered abuse on social media.

Arsenal have helped Xhaka through the difficult period but the Switzerland international said such abuse is damaging the sport and the authorities must do more to tackle the problem.

"It is only about me. I am the guy who is on the pitch," Xhaka told a news conference.

"It is not my wife, it is not my little one, it is not my family. So if you want to criticise someone, no problem to criticise me like a person, like a player."

Xhaka received abuse from several social media accounts, including some which identified as Arsenal fans and season-ticket holders.

"You have to open our eyes and look after this a lot, because I think you will kill football like this if the people start to speak about a player or their families or things like this," he said.

Xhaka has endured a turbulent relationship with fans since his arrival at Arsenal in 2016 and it spilled over in 2019 when he reacted angrily to home supporters booing him as he walked off the pitch after being substituted against Crystal Palace.

When asked if he has been happier playing without fans in the stadium, Xhaka said: "Not really, I'm not a guy who is scared or afraid to play in front of our fans – never, ever.

"I love the club and I respect the people around the team as well."

Arsenal face Portuguese side Benfica in the second leg of their Europa League last-32 tie in Piraeus, Greece on Thursday after drawing 1-1 last week.

(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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