Mikel Arteta is tempted by the idea of starting Emile Smith Rowe as a false nine striker should Alexandre Lacazette miss Saturday’s must-win League match against Southampton.
No Lacazette again today at training, he wasn’t at Colney at all. He’s been suffering with illness. Looks like Arteta will be forced into another change tomorrow.
— Charles Watts (@charles_watts) April 15, 2022
Arsenal’s challenge for a top four place has faltered in recent weeks with back-to-back defeats against Crystal Palace and Brighton allowing rivals Spurs the opportunity to surge ahead.
Arteta moved Xhaka from midfield to left-back for Saturday’s meeting with Brighton, opting for a trio of Albert Sambi Lokonga, Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard in the middle of the park.
However, the decision to deploy Smith Rowe centrally came back to hurt Mikel as Arsenal failed to exploit the middle spaces leaving Smith to be subbed off for Nketiah after 62 mins on the pitch.
Explaining his decision to move Xhaka to left-back, Arteta said: ‘Well especially the way I thought they [Brighton] were going to play and the spaces that we wanted to attack, it fits really well to play Emile [Smith Rowe] in that position [midfield].
‘Especially because we thought that space was going to be there as well for Granit [Xhaka] to be used, which it was, but we didn’t use it.
‘After the game, when you lose, the decision that you made you have to write before the match, after it is too late.’
When asked if he would persist with a 4-3-3 formation, despite the worrying injury situation, he added: ‘We have different qualities and depending on the role and what the game requires or the spaces that you want to attack or defend.
‘It can become more challenging because of the numbers that we have. It’s obvious that we don’t have the capacity to change too much there.’
With Arsenal likely to go with double-pivot against Soton, it will leave Martinelli and Saka to be deployed on both flanks and Odegaard as number ’10’ with the striking option up for taken between Nketiah and Smith Rowe.
- Arsenal Icon Ian Wright slams Nketiah lack of desire.
Nketiah has not started any single Premier League game yet, coming off the bench 13 times but has failed to make his make as the 22-year-old is yet to score in the Premier League this season.
With Alexandre Lacazette an injury doubt for Saturday’s game against Southampton, Arteta could be forced into another inconvenient change.
Arteta has previously talked up the possibility of deploying Smith Rowe, Arsenal’s joint top scorer this season, as a false nine but hasn’t been tempted to experiment with that option since the first leg of last season’s Europa League semi-final first leg against Villarreal.
Asked if Smith Rowe would be capable of taking on that role again, Arteta said: ‘He’s not been completely fit to be training and playing every game, but it’s a possibility.
‘It’s a position that I think he can fulfil in the future, but he needs training, and he needs experience in.’
Arsenal travel to St. Mary’s stadium to take on Southampton on in what is a true test of the players’ character following back-to-back defeats.