Left-back Crisis? Arsenal will be without Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac when the Gunners take on Sporting CP this Thursday night in the Europa League. Here’s how Unai Emery can solve it.
Granit Xhaka at left back against Sporting? I would rather see Stephan Lichtsteiner in an Arsenal back three. But they are the prospects that are facing the Gunners given the current injury problems at left back.
Unai Emery mentioned that both Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac are only “hopeful” for the Europa League clash, so the defensive lineup is still up in the air. Emery even left the door open for someone to again fill-in against Palace at the weekend (emphasis mine):
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For our balance, it’s better Nacho or Sead are OK to play in this position, and we are going to look at how they are for the next matches, but I hope they can play on Thursday or shortly afterwards.
Does that mean Hector Bellerin plays Thursday and Sunday? I do not think so.
Lichtsteiner is far more comfortable in the right back role and has been the Europa League starter, so that is the easier decision of the two. Which then leaves Xhaka to again fill-in at left back.
Xhaka blocked two shots against Leicester City on Monday night and only allowed one shot past him, which blazed well over. But he was also beaten once on the sideline. It was a scary moment, as Xhaka, already on a yellow, instinctively reached out to grab the player. He seemed to realize this, as he managed to let go right as he grabbed hand-fulls of the jersey. Suffice to say, it was a busy 30 minutes.
In the Premier League, I think a holding midfielder playing full back is a terrible idea. One would imagine Palace manager Roy Hodgson could come up with a few good gameplans to take advantage of Xhaka at left back.
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But there is actually a better reason for not playing him against Palace: Xhaka is on four yellows and risks being suspended for the Liverpool match if he does anything foolish. Which you figure he would, given 90 minutes, out of position, against a Premier League side desperate for points, particularly if Wilfried Zaha or even Andros Townsend decides to drift wide and pull directly onto the Swiss international.
At the same time, if he can be expected to take a card against a struggling Palace side, what would happen against Sporting? The deeper you look into it, the more certain it sounds that playing Xhaka at full back is a needs-must scenario. That makes Lichtsteiner partnering in a back three the most likely setup.
It would be interesting to see again, because the first half against Qarabag was uninspiring. I am sure all three centre-backs would like revenge for that one.