Unai Emery has opened the door to Granit Xhaka making an Arsenal comeback just weeks after suggesting his former captain could be sold in January.
The Gunners boss opted to strip Xhaka of the armband as a result of his outburst aimed at supporters who jeered him as he was substituted against Crystal Palace on October 27.
Xhaka told fans to “f*** off” and cupped his ears in response to the fans’ reaction, later pointing to social media abuse aimed at his wife and newborn child as the reason for his outpouring of emotion.
He has not played for Arsenal since, sitting out four games as Emery suggested he needed time out of the firing line and then announced his decision to change his captain.
While Emery suggested before the international break that Xhaka may never play for the club again and could be moved on during the transfer window, he backtracked ahead of Saturday’s Premier League visit of Southampton.
Xhaka, 27, played both of Switzerland’s games in the past week and Emery confirmed he has considered bringing the midfielder out of the cold for the visit of struggling Saints.
“At the moment it’s important how he feels,” Emery said. “He told me this morning he is very convinced to help the team.
“I am going to decide if it is a good moment or if we need more time to help him for the team.
“Don’t forget his mistake, but he can come back showing his commitment, his good behaviour and good performances, helping and defending the Arsenal team.
“Now he is feeling better, and feeling that he can come back helping us and connecting with the team and connecting with the supporters.
“Above all we need confidence in all and we need also to take a good result, a good performance and good connection with our supporters every day, individually and collectively.”
When it was put to Emery that it would be easier to hand Xhaka his recall in a game away from the Emirates Stadium, the Spaniard replied: “Maybe, but it depends.
“If we can connect with our supporters, we are going to do better. In this situation, it is better to do it with him on the pitch.
“But I am going to do it progressively, giving him a good feeling being with us, training, playing.
“That could be at home, could be away. It’s not only with Xhaka. It’s a special circumstance but also with other players. Other players also need to achieve confidence to give us the best performance individually.”
That collective confidence needs rebuilding following a run of two wins from their last 10 Premier League games and no victories in their last five fixtures across all competitions.
Emery knows only a win against 19th-placed Southampton will keep his critics off his back.
“Our challenge now is to reduce the distance (to the top four), little by little, starting on Saturday and that match is very important,” he said.
“Getting three points is 100 per cent our focus but above all we need to connect with our supporters while playing better and being in control of the games. We need to do that at Emirates on Saturday.
“During the week it was very good in how the players responded in training to start again a new situation.”