Martin Keown admitted he feels sorry for Granit Xhaka being forced to play at left-back and called for Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta to play Bukayo Saka there instead.
Keown felt Xhaka was ‘exposed’ by Villarreal in a 2-1 defeat on Thursday night in the Europa League semi-finals and fears for the Swiss when he takes on Newcastle’s tricky winger Allan Saint-Maximin on Sunday.
There’s a chance that regular left-back Kieran Tierney could be involved for the second leg – as Arsenal look to turn the tie on its head at the Emirates – but if he isn’t passed fit, it’s expected that Xhaka will continue to play out of position.
But Keown believes Arteta ‘must’ install England international Saka at left-back and allow Xhaka to be restored to midfield if they want to progress to the final.
‘Another key issue, which may well be highlighted against Newcastle tomorrow, is at left back,’ Keown told the Daily Mail.
‘Granit Xhaka does not deserve to be getting the blame. I feel for him. He’s a midfielder being told to play at left back by his manager in Kieran Tierney’s absence.
‘Xhaka played well there against Sheffield United, and Arsenal kept their first clean sheet for 13 games. But he has since been left exposed by higher-quality opponents, such as Richarlison for Everton and Samuel Chukwueze for Villarreal. He could now face Newcastle’s in-form Allan Saint-Maximin.
‘Let’s not even go into how a club like Arsenal, whose owners wanted them in the closed-shop European Super League, finds itself without a back-up left back.
‘Villarreal boss Unai Emery identified Xhaka at left back and Dani Ceballos on the left of a midfield two as the vulnerable area in Arteta’s side on Thursday.
‘Emery showed his experience against a team he knew well, while Arteta showed his inexperience.
‘If Tierney is fit, he walks into the team for that all-or-nothing second leg. If not, Saka must play at left back, a position where has excelled previously for club and country.
‘If Arteta sticks with 4-2-3-1, Xhaka can then go back alongside Thomas Partey in midfield, where he has been much improved this season.’
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