After a run of four games without a victory, Arsenal got themselves back on track with a comfortable 3-0 win over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane last night.
The win has moved the Gunners back into the top half of the table, meaning they are still in with a chance of securing a European spot for next season.
Considering Arsenal had been cursed by injury troubles in the build-up to the trip to South Yorkshire, losing Kieran Tierney, David Luiz, Martin Odegaard, Emile Smith Rowe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, it was a professional showing from the Londoners, meaning they will head into Thursday’s UEFA Europa League quarter-final second-leg against Slavia Prague with confidence running through their veins.
For Arteta, who had watched his slump to a 3-0 home defeat to Liverpool in their last Premier League outing, the performance was one to be pleased with.
Speaking during his post-match press conference, the Spaniard said: “I think we had a really strong performance. A clean sheet which was needed after a long run without it.
“They were very efficient, intelligent and composed with the ball which I’m really pleased with. We showed great cohesion, understanding and it was the right attitude so I’m very happy.”
As outlined above, the Gunners, who have now won their last three meetings with the Blades, arrived in South Yorkshire last night plagued by injury woes. However, the biggest loss, arguably, was that of Tierney.
The Scotland international suffered knee ligament damage in last weekend’s clash with Liverpool and now faces a period of around six weeks on the sidelines.
Whilst his absence was bound to have a damaging impact on the team because of his importance down the left-wing, the Gunners do not have a recognisable replacement available to them. They were desperate to add a new left-back to their ranks in the latter stages of the January transfer window but their efforts proved to be no avail, despite being linked with the likes of Patrick van Aanholt and Ryan Bertrand.
With no other recognisable left-back at the club, Arteta opted to put central defensive-midfielder Granit Xhaka in that position, which was most certainly a brave call. However, the Switzerland international delivered a solid showing in a defensive sense and did the job that Arteta would have hoped for.
Reviewing the makeshift left-back’s performance, Arteta said: “He had a specific role today for the game because we believed they were going to try to do something.
“He had the right qualities to develop that role. He did that really good.
“It’s a joy to work with him because you ask him to play as a centre-forward and his first reaction is ‘yeah, yeah I’ll do my best’.
“I think today he had a really strong performance and with Kieran probably out for the season it gives us another option.”
Arteta was not the only person who approved of Xhaka’s performance in unfamiliar territory.
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After the match, Xhaka took to social media to celebrate the win with a standard message and it soon attracted a response from Bukayo Saka, who simply replied saying: “My left-back.”
Clearly, therefore, Saka, who is capable of playing at left-back himself, was impressed with what he saw from his teammate and approved of his performance.
With Tierney in danger of missing the remainder of the season, it remains to be seen whether or not Xhaka will be handed the task of continuing in the role or whether or not carrying out the duty against the Blades was seen as a one-off by Arteta.