Emery defends under fire boss Arteta for key Arsenal decision
Former Arsenal boss Unai Emery has defended current Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta after he was criticised for not playing a striker in the 2-1 defeat to Villarreal.
Arteta opted to use Emile Smith Rowe as a false nine in the first leg of the Europa League semi-final.
Alexandre Lacazette’s thigh injury and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang only recently recovering from malaria left Arteta with limited options up front for Arsenal.
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But the decision to start Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah on the bench led to questions over Arteta’s team selection.
But Emery – now in charge of Villarreal – insists Arteta’s decision to start without a recognised striker was not unexpected.
“I’m nobody to question Mikel Arteta’s decision, we had the idea that it would approximately be this line up,” said Emery.
“They had several injured players, Aubameyang hadn’t played for a while, I think it’s normal. The first [starting] XI was more or less what we expected.”
Meanwhile, Arteta stood by his team selection and claimed Arsenal’s game plan was thrown off course by Manuel Trigueros’ early opening goal.
“It’s the way we prepared the game and it’s the decision I made,” said the Spaniard.
“We thought this was the best way to play but the game was conditioned after four minutes [when Villarreal scored].
“So it’s difficult to assess whether it would work or not. Conceding the set-piece changed it as well, and after we had to approach it in a different way.
“We’ve played with real strikers sometimes and we didn’t score any goals many times this season. It’s a decision I made and that’s it.”
The Spaniard insists he is “confident” of progressing.
He added: “We didn’t want to come here and lose but after the way the game developed, you have to take the result,” Arteta said. “If you have to lose it is probably the best result we could have.
“Two different halves. We started to be us, in the first half there were so many moments we weren’t.
“We started to chase and were not precise with the ball, didn’t have enough control. We didn’t have enough threat or desire to attack the box, in the second half it was completely different.
“We are very used to that (Bukayo Saka playing well) this season, but it tells us we need to do much more as we cannot always rely on him. Bernd Leno was very good, at 2-0, the chance with Gerard Moreno, he saved us.
“We had a big chance with Auba to draw the game. I am confident we have a chance to win.”
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