Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Arteta defends decision to field Xhaka at left-back

Mikel Arteta says Arsenal didn’t lose to Brighton because of his decision to field Granit Xhaka at left-back and defended the decision to field the Switzerland international out of position by claiming Arsenal’s stats on the occasions it has happened “don’t get much better than that.”

Having substituted Nuno Tavares at half time of the 3-0 defeat to Crystal Palace, there was huge interest in whether the Portugal under-21 international would be given another shot at covering for the injured Kieran Tierney.

In the end, Arteta opted to bench the 22-year-old in favour of a tactical reshuffle that seemed to unbalance a midfield that was also missing Thomas Partey.

Ahead of Saturday’s trip to Southampton, the manager was quizzed on his decision given his side’s frustrating defeat at the hands of the Seagulls.

“When I put a player on the pitch it’s because I can see that he’s in the right conditions to do that,” he said of the decision not to field Tavares.

“To show him trust and for the players to show trust to us is, I’m going to give them the opportunity when I believe that he is ready to do that. When I see the moment he is doubting, I don’t give him any favour by putting him in there.

“Then you can discuss whether Granit can play there, just look at the stats when Granit has played as a left-back. They don’t get much better than that.”

From what we can tell, Xhaka played left-back on seven occasions last season and Arsenal won four times, lost twice and drew once (see below). This season, the Swiss has featured there for 45 minutes each against Palace and Brighton and those games have also been lost.

Granit Xhaka @ left-back 2020/21

While it’s not a terrible record, it’s tough to suggest it’s exemplary.

Given Arsenal’s tight squad, injuries to key players were always going to make it difficult to maintain consistency until the end of the season.

We’ve done reasonably well at plugging holes when the odd player has been out but now we’re in a situation when three starters are sidelined, it’s become a bit of a struggle.

On maintaining tactical clarity, Arteta said: “If you have the elements to change one player for another, it’s simple.

“When you don’t you have to figure out what to do without putting the players in a situation where they’re not comfortable and trying to exploit the maximum qualities of the players and asking them to do things they are capable of doing.

“Hopefully, you can have every element just to change it and don’t touch anything else. When you don’t have, you have to find other solutions.”

Clearly on the defensive, Arteta also pointed out that his tactics aren’t under the microscope to the same extent after wins or before matches.

“It’s not whether it’s easy or complicated, it’s what you have and you have to make the best out of that,” he said.

“There were moments when we have played Ben [White] at full-back instead of somebody else, we won the match and I haven’t heard any comments about him playing as a full-back.

“When you don’t, obviously everything is there to be judged but it’s better to do it before the game than after.”

To be fair, if Arteta had held a press conference in the minutes after last week’s team sheet was revealed, there would have been plenty of questions about whether moving Xhaka was the right thing to do.

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So it sounds like he will be back at LB and Laca up front.


My thot too…🤪


🎶🎵 🎵🎶🎵🎶🎵🎶

It ain’t necessarily so…



Probably be better off with Laca at left back and Xhaka up front 😀


Absolutely. There is all this talk about the midfield, but what I don’t think has been said at all enough on the podcasts is just how bad playing Xhaka at left back really is. I couldn’t name one single trait associated with the position that he has in his skill set. Defensive awareness? Recovery pace? Athleticism? Agility? This is not to knock the guy, it’s just a fact. As a manager it is your job not to put your fish too far out of water. It stresses the player, and it stresses the team. We may not have lost every… Read more »


What are the stats when Saka played as LB?


Not many goals from him

Move on.


What are the stats when Pepe’s been given a run in the team?
The solution could not be easier . He’s making this so much harder than it needs to be.


“look at the stats when Granit has played as a left-back. They don’t get much better than that.” If that were true then Xhaka would be our regular left back


If he plays Xhaka at LB again, he deserves all the stick that comes his way. It’s shit for Xhaka and has a shit knock on effect on Lokonga, ESR & Odegaard.
Just. Don’t. Do. It.


It’s the same type of nonsense that came out his mouth with the crossing statistics last season. Hope we don’t have to go on the same cataclysmic run before he acknowledges he’s wrong again.


If he plays Tavares at left back, Southampton will lick their lips, pile everything and the kitchen sink down their right wing – and we’ll be well and truly finished

Tanned arse

Why is there the common feeling now that tavares is a really weak defender. He proved himself in plenty of games earlier in the season. His form dipped a bit and his passing was erratic against forest. But the kid rarely got caught out of position doesn’t get run past and is generally fine. Against palace he came in cold after not playing for 2 months. None of the players were at the races. He didn’t compete on a set-piece so have a word with him, work on it on the training pitch and see if it turns into a… Read more »


I agree.

But he’s too big a risk in a game of this magnitude.

Anything less than three points today and it’s game over.


Tavares’ positioning is awful. For lot of us, that’s not a new assumption. Look back on his displays at Anfield, Old Trafford & his catastrophic half an hour at Goodison. The kid is frankly well out of his depth eight now at this level. Those of us who said it at the time were slated on here, others are just catching up


T’was ever thus…..


Defending Xhaka at left-back? Okay
But it is not just that. It also means losing Xhaka in our midfield once he is moved from there. With Partey absent, Xhaka and Sambi are needed in the pivot.

Pete Plum

Or if Xhaka really must play left back, Elneny in midfield.


Not sure why Sambi would be needed though. Overnight when no one was looking a tacid consensus must have been formed with many people on board acknowledging Sambi’s usefulness and talent on the basis of God knows what. Definitely not performances.


From what I remember about the actual games, we were never very good, always unbalanced in midfield, and we were absolutely fucking dreadful against Villarreal – you know, the only games that at that stage of the season that actually mattered.

Playing Xhaka at left back was a mistake then and it was a mistake now.
The fact that Arteta seems unwilling to accept that is troubling, but sadly typical.


To be blatantly honest, I could understand it; the manager went for experience.

As it is, had he played Tavares there – and we’d all been treated to more of Forest away and Palace away – I would have been livid with him.

Playing Xhaka there instead of Tavares was definitely the lesser of two evils.

And we need Saka playing as a right/left forward/ winger. At worst a left wing back in a three at the back formation. End of.



Saka can offer much more than Xhaka for the way Arsenal want to play.
ESR, Odegaard, Martinelli & Pepe are still available for the 3 attacking midfield positions. Elneny is the only other central midfield alternative to Xhaka.
Do I want Saka at LB ? No. Can we just dismiss it as an option ? Of course not.


If it was down to me, I’d play Saka as a left wing back. Big difference to left back. At least then he’s got the option to help out going forward, because we need goals and lots of them. As I’ve stated many times elsewhere, I’d play three at the back – White, Holding and Gabriel. Saka and Cedric as left and right attacking wing backs respectively. Xhaka and Sambi in a twin pivot midfield. Sit in front of the back three to win the ball back and then move it forward quickly. Three up front; Martinelli left, Pepe right… Read more »


No problem with us going to 3 at the back…but I just can’t see it happening. So assuming that we do stick to a back 4, Saka is a far better LB option than Xhaka.


If we just shared our database with the Ballon D’Or committee, Granit would be a shoo-in.

Cornelius Mainga

It was a mistake to play Xhaka there but maybe we don’t have the facts. Maybe other players like Saka were unwilling or uncomfortable to be there again and Tavares was not ready.
Maybe changing into a 3-5-2 with wingbacks will be the best route out… We need goals and we can’t defend well and we are failing to score.
Xhaka should partner Lokonga in the middle with Pepe and Lacazette as strikers.
ESR should start from the bench and come on 60 minutes

Public Elneny

I agree, though I’d have Martinelli partnering Laca upfront. Something like: ——————–Ramsdale ———–White—-Holding—–Gabriel Cedric————-Lokonga—————Saka ———–Odegaard———-Xhaka ———–Martinelli——Laca Saka hasn’t had any joy the last couple of games, teams are paying him too much attention, so taking him out of the attacking unit won’t harm us too much and will buy him some space. Gabriel has the pace and ability to cover his constant attacking forays Cedric is a bit of a lame RWB but what can you do, maybe he’ll balance Saka’s attacking nature out a bit on the left We don’t have a single forward we can trust in a… Read more »


No no no no
Arteta needs to learn to accept his faults. Saka or Nuno at left back would have been the best.
Pepe or a new kid can play on the right wing position. We were playing at home (that’s an advantage for morale boosting). Anyways, let’s keep our hopes up and at least qualify for Europe. It will help this group so much.


Xhaka and Arteta seem to have some traits in common that worries me. I’ll have no sympathy if misplaced faith in Xhaka is what torpedoes his Arsenal career.


Well it’s what torpedoed Emery’s and Wenger’s before him.
He is the crutch of the club and breaker of managers


Arteta has missed the point that it’s not the inability of Xhaka to play left back, but what we miss in midfield when he does. It’s fine if we have Partey, but without two first choice midfielders it seems very open in there. Saying that, I’d like Sambi continues in there, but I’d also like Tavares at left back and give him a chance to learn from his mistakes and get better (he kept KT out of the team for a while earlier in the season). Arteta says himself that this is a process, so why not stick to that… Read more »


I disagree. It IS the inability of Xhaka to play left back. See my above comment


Cue the ominous music. These comments give me a sinking feeling.


The thought of Tavares at left back has a certain John Williams two note cellos and double basses groove to it, I must admit….

”We need a bigger boat……” 😉


I can’t take another match with Xhaka at LB. The midfield becomes completely dysfunctional and ineffective. Plus Xhaka can’t handle any winger with pace, nor can he get forward to help out offensively. And there are always moments in the game where he’s completely out of position, like he was for Brighton’s first goal last week. Just put Tavares in and try to out score the opposition, or go to a back five to balance things out. So frustrating.


You’d leave our Champions League hopes – already hanging by a thread – in the not-so-capable left back hands of Tavares….?!!


Reality check

If Arsenal fans can force Wenger out, who is pretty high on the legend’s list, may be even the highest for some. You’re pretty low down that list Mikel, may be not even on the list for some – just remember that..

Man Manny

You were wrong, Arteta; accept it and move on.
Great managers own up to their mistakes.
Pep accepted his formation and choice of players against Chelsea in the CL was wrong. It hasn’t robbed him of his due respect.
Yet this upstart will never accept blame for anything; it’s always the players.
I hope the players don’t finally turn on him like the did Mourinho at Chelsea and United.


We’ve shat the bed more times than my incontinent auntie Maureen. She’s 84. It’s getting silly now . Put left backs at left back and midfielders in the middle. Jaysus even Maureen s nodding away in the corner there while she shits her chair


Mate, you want to show some respect for your family.

A Different George

Well, I think Xhaka at left back is a mistake because Partey is also out and, for better or worse, Xhaka’s presence in the midfield becomes much more important. But I don’t think any of the other solutions I have heard are much better. If Tomiyasu were available, then a back three (with Cedric and Tavares as wingbacks) might work. A back three with Holding at its centre disrupts our ability to move the ball forward quickly almost as much as Partey’s absence does.


Saka at left back with Xhaka in midfield is much better. No question.


This article could do without the commentary – feel it’s creating a narrative.

djourou's nutmeg

he and his coaches watch the players every day. he saw nuno was insecure, would cost us the game and deplete his confidence. could have played saka there but decided he wanted to keep the threat he gives us up front. he decided the team would probably be more comfortable with that formation instead of three defenders. how can you judge him or say he was wrong? what do you all know about the team? as he said, xhaka successfully played left back before. is it optimal? no, but he’s trying to do the best he can with what he… Read more »


Hopefully he grows out of this hubris


What’s wrong with playing Holding central and pushing White to rb so that Cedric goes to the eft? I’ve seen Holding come in a few times and do exceptionally well


Yep, good call.

I would bring Holding in alongside Gabriel and White in a back three.

Then push Saka and Cedric up as wingbacks.

You have the best of both worlds – an experienced defence and Saka still in an attacking position.


I have been sick of reading about this guy for years. This is getting nauseating. Epitome of mediocrity.


He has a point. But only one-sided however. Xhaka maybe a hood option at left back, but that creates a big gap in midfield without Partey. Someone please tell him before the game tomorrow.


Wants informs Arteta arrogance? Xhaka at left back weakens two positions on the pitch, especially with Partey out.
Imagine what this doing to Tavares confidence.
Any position below sixth should earn the Spaniard the sack !

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