Granit Xhaka was exposed at left-back by Everton last weekend in the Premier League but still, Mikel Arteta chose to use the midfielder in that same role vs Villarreal.
With Tierney out, someone had to fill in at left-back but Granit Xhaka clearly looked bewildered and out of ideas in that position as Unai Emery’s side won the match 2-1.
The scoreline could have been really embarrassing for Arsenal had Villarreal taken all their chances and according to pundits Martin Keown and Freddie Ljungberg, Xhaka’s positioning is something that was Arteta’s wrongdoing.
Keown said, as per HITC: “He’s pointing to Ceballos to get in front of him. It looks like the action of a player who is not comfortable in that position and the manager has put him there.
“So it’s about the decisions of the manager, it’s not Xhaka’s fault. I do believe he’s the most improved player we have. But to play him at left-back leaves him exposed for me.”
Freddie Ljungberg also seconded these comments saying that Granit Xhaka was not blessed with pace which is why he was always hesitant to join in on attacks.
“That’s what I wanted to say,” Ljungberg. “We know Granit’s weaknesses, he’s a fantastic player with the ball and his left foot is very good but he’s slow.
“So one against one that’s why he drops all the time, he doesn’t dare to come up because he’s scared to get done. You can’t blame him too much though.”
"You have to have a specialist left-back at this level… at any level!"
Martin Keown breaks down the issue of Arsenal using Granit Xhaka as a full-back in Kieran Tierney's absence 😬 pic.twitter.com/d5eDXgBgLk
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) April 29, 2021
Mikel Arteta had used Bukayo Saka at left-back last season and we really thought the Arsenal boss will push the youngster into the full-back role for this key game as well.
Yes, Saka provides a lot going forward right now but in such a crucial match, the manager needed to have a really solid backline especially when he chose to play with a false nine.
Someone like Cedric Soares could have also come into the left-hand side of defence but Arteta bluntly chose to ignore these options and stick with Granit Xhaka.
Thankfully, Kieran Tierney is close to full fitness and he should be ready to play in the second leg which becomes even more important now that Dani Ceballos will be suspended for that game.