Unai Emery has defended Mikel Arteta after the Arsenal boss came under fire for not fielding a natural striker against Villarreal.
Arteta chose to start Emile Smith Rowe as a false nine for the first leg of the Europa League semi-final, marking the first time the 20-year-old has played that role this season.
This decision was partly forced on the Gunners boss in light of Alexandre Lacazette’s thigh injury and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang only recently recovering form malaria.
But the decision to start Gabriel Martinelli on the bench caused a stir, with the Brazilian forward only called on midway through the second half with Arsenal 2-0 down.
Martinelli’s introduction helped kick-start Arsenal into life and Nicolas Pepe converted a penalty to halve the deficit and give his side an away goal to take into the second leg.
Nonetheless, Emery insists his compatriot’s decision to start without a recognised striker was what he expected.
“I’m nobody to question Mikel Arteta’s decision, we had the idea that it would approximately be this line up,” said Emery when quizzed on his opposite number’s team selection after the match.
Would you have changed Arsenal’s starting XI for the first leg? Have your say in the comments.
“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.”
Arteta added: “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.”
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