Granit Xhaka: Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger wanted to sign me last year
Granit Xhaka says Arsene Wenger first called him a year ago about a transfer to Arsenal, and that he views the Gunners manager as a "legend."
Arsenal announced on Wednesday they had reached a deal to sign the Switzerland international from Borussia Monchengladbach, and Xhaka confirmed he has signed a five-year contract after a transfer worth €40 million (about £30.41m)..
And the midfielder made it clear that the deal had been in the works for a long time, saying Wenger first contacted him "a year ago."
"I was nearly lost for words when he called me," Xhaka told Swiss newspaper Blick. "He's a legend for me. I used to play with him as the manager on PlayStation back in the day. Now he can coach me."
Xhaka will join up with his new club after the European Championship and will face high expectations in his first season at Arsenal, with fans hoping the tough-tackling midfielder can add a bit of steel to a spine that's often accused of being too soft.
But the 23-year-old said he doesn't feel too much pressure, despite the high transfer fee.
"I have learnt in my life that it's not good to put too much pressure on me," he said. "I pressured myself at Gladbach at first.
"Despite the high fee I am looking forward to the challenge at Arsenal -- it's the transfer I've always wanted. I am a much stronger character than I was at Basel. A new life starts in London -- I am looking forward to getting to know my new teammates and the staff.
"It makes me proud that Arsenal chased me for a long time. But that [€40m] sum is not the most important thing in my life. It does show, however, that I've worked incredibly hard the past four years. I was a leader at Gladbach, and that's not normal at the age of 23. I've really matured at Gladbach."
Xhaka added that he turned down a move to Atletico Madrid last summer because it "was not the right time for a transfer," and he believes Arsenal will be a better fit for his playing style.
"Arsenal's interest was very strong -- I fit Arsenal, they like to play football," he said.
"Arsenal have played wicked, attractive football in recent years. My career plan has worked out. I am really happy we worked out a deal before the Euros, so I can go into it with a clear mind."
Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.