Mikel Arteta explains decision to pick Granit Xhaka instead of Cedric Soares
Mikel Arteta has defended his decision to persist with deploying Granit Xhaka as a makeshift left-back in the absence of Kieran Tierney.
The Scotland international has been, arguably, Arsenal’s most consistent player this season but has again succumbed to injury.
Tierney suffered knee ligament damage during last month’s 3-0 defeat against Liverpool following a collision with James Milner, and although he has returned to full training ahead of schedule, the 23-year-old remains a doubt for Thursday’s Europa League semi-final second leg against Villarreal.
In his absence, Xhaka has deputised in a largely unfamiliar position, despite the presence of two genuine full-backs, albeit right-footed ones, in the squad in the shape of Cedric Soares and Hector Bellerin.
Martin Keown criticised the decision to play Xhaka at let back after last week’s first leg, during which he was partially at fault for Villarreal’s opener when he backed off and allowed winger Samuel Chukwueze into the penalty area and create a chance for Manu Trigueros.
Arteta, however, pointed out that Xhaka has contributed to two of Arsenal’s more assured defensive displays of late and believes maintaining a level of consistency with his team selections will yield dividends.
He said: ‘It’s been one of the reasons (giving Xhaka a chance to learn the role, because of the way we wanted to play and the players around.
‘We have managed to get some clean sheets since he’s been playing there and that’s something that didn’t happen for 13 games. He gives something different to the team.’
Arteta did, however, concede that Soares has been an ‘unlucky’ victim of Xhaka’s redeployment given how well he performed in the role earlier this season.
He added: ‘Well, he’s been a bit unfortunate because he played some good games as a right-back as well and then we had the injury of Kieran and he played some as a left-back and we were training with him as a left-back. We could have given him more opportunities, but it’s true that Calum came in and did really well.’
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