Four Big Arteta Decisions for the Villareal CF game: GK, LB, LM, CF

With just a couple days to go till our encounter with Emery’s Villareal CF, let’s have a look at how Arteta could make changes in order for us to get a good result. As always in an European two-legged affair, an away goal is crucial and Arteta will have to set up the team with this in mind.

There are four things Mikel needs to look at as to put up the strongest possible team right now:

  1. The first big question is who should be in goal? Leno has gradually lost his command of the goal area and has made some big mistakes recently. Arteta is not a man to punish a player for a mistake (thank God) and will always aim to give players confidence, but he has to make a big decision here, as the next two UEFA League games will determine so much for him and the club. Ryan may be the better option right now: fresh, wants to proof himself and he seems more confident in the air/work better with the current lot of central defenders. What do you think?
  2. The left back situation. Xhaka has done very well there defensively but he is less likely to be effective going forward and he is well missed in midfield. The main reason he is playing left back is his exceptional left foot: none of the current full backs has one and for playing out of the back it is essential right now. But I don’t feel that we can afford to play Partey on his own/ with Dani in these pivotal games. Xhaka has to be moved back in midfield and somebody else needs to take up the left back situation. Soares and Hector are options but what about Big Gab as left back? He is fast and energetic, a typical defender and with the calm Mari next to him Gabriel should be a solid option. What do you think?
  3. I can see the potential of a hard working Partey bossing the midfield on his own with a fellow midfielder who has a free role around him. This player needs to be very mobile with a huge engine. I think that man may well be Joe Willock but he is donning the barcode shirt currently. I can also see ESR in this role or even Odegaard, but Ceballos is not the right guy. As I mentioned in item 2, I believe Arteta has to reinstate the Xhaka-Partey partnership against Villareal, but what do you think?
  4. Who should lead the line? Will Auba be fit (enough to be effective)? Is Eddie the answer or is this the game Martinelli will put his name on the European map? Or is it time to gamble big and put the almost totally untried Balogun – newly signed up by the Gunners – up top? If Auba is not fit then from a loyalty point of view Eddie should play; he deserves this chance. But we need an attacker in the Laca-mold as that is the way we have been most successful recently; so a player who supports midfield and harasses defenders all the time, who is great at linkup play whilst also a fox in the box. IMO that player is Martinelli as I don’t know enough about Balogun. But what do you think?

By TotalArsenal.

47 thoughts on “Four Big Arteta Decisions for the Villareal CF game: GK, LB, LM, CF

  • TA, pertinent points to think about the Semi Finals game. Its an away game and based on our performance this season, we are better away than at home. We need to be in a fairly good position for our Home tie. So here is my pick
    1. Goal Keeper- Ryan might be great, but cannot go into Semi Finals with a huge gamble when Leno is fit. Last Season we didn’t know Emi would great, but had to play him due to Leno’s injury. Arteta missed a trick by not making Ryan play in some league games to keep Leno on his toes. I would go with Leno for this match as i don’t know if Ryan can be another Emi especially when my first choice is fit.
    2. Left back – Would go with Gaby and reinstate Xhaka in the middle. The reason is they have a pacy winger Chuckweze and based on the evidence of how Xhaka dealt with Richarlison (mind you he bet him twice the whole game not too bad but still), i would go with Gaby.
    3. Midfield will be Partey, Xhaka and Ode with ESR on the wing to provide more creativity.
    4. Striker – I love Martinelli and have said so on this blog. If Auba is not ready then play Martinelli there and look at the option of Pepe as a Sub later on in the game. With Ode available there is a chance that Martinelli might get better service without he needing to link up play. He will give us energy and that hunger for goals.

  • Upfront, I think Arteta has to trust Martinel. Martinel is sharp, mobile, and can harass the defenders.

  • Mikel has some really tricky decisions to make for a very significant match. Here are my thoughts.
    1. GK. I agree with Madhu that Ryan should have played more league games and might be considered a gamble. When we have seen him he has looked solid enough though and it is rumoured that we are trying to buy him. If that is true then he must have shown enough in training to warrant selection.
    2. LB. I think that who plays in front of the LB should influence who is selected. I agree that I would prefer Xhaka in midfield, dropping across to cover LB if necessary but, I am not sure about Big Gab at LB unless he is being given a good workout there this week. I think I would play Cedric there. Saka would be another option and, with Martinelli in front of him, the pair would give Villareal plenty to worry about on that flank.
    3. Partey, Xhaka, Odegaard
    4. If PEA is FULLY fit then he should play through the middle. If not, then it should be Martinelli or Balugon. As with Ryan, it is disappointing that Balugon hasn’t been given more game time. With the possible exception of Balugon none of the other options can hold the ball up as Laca can. My issue with Martinelli is that I think he offers from a defensive point of view if played on the left. Eddie is an excellent poacher but he can look a bit of a passenger if we are not creating plenty of opportunities in and around the box. I suspect that the first leg might be a tight affair and therefore lacking in those opportunities.

  • Cheers OX10, that is also a fine response. I really like the idea of playing Saka at LB on Thursday. Bukayo can bomb forward and Xhaka can go a bit deeper then.

    I am for the first time since he joined nervous about Leno. The goal he conceded on Friday was such a poor one. My gut feeling tells me Ryan should start… and I think he will.

  • I understand Big Gab used to play LB sometimes in Lille. If so why cant we try him there. The guy is solid and pacey. Martinelli should play if PEA is unfit. The guy can torment defenders. Leno represent a risk and disaster in the waiting. Pepe on the left and Saka on the right. carry go.

  • Nice post Total.

    I’m nervous about Leno’s mind set – he just does not look confident anymore – so based on that I would go with Ryan.

    Left back is tricky but I would go with Saka for both his speed and overall versatility, that would leave Xhaka to go to midfield and offer up opportunities for our strikers.

    Martinelli is my choice as central striker with Auba (if fit) as left wing.

    I don’t know much about Villareal but we know that Emery is an Europa league specialist and will be a hard nut to crack.

    Even though the odds seem to be against us I have a feeling that we will conjure up a surprise.

  • Hi GN5,

    Yeah I am nervous too. Emery is a proud man and he would love to beat us to the final. Arsenal will have to play at the top oof their game.
    I like your shout for both Martinelli and Auba to play if fit!

  • Just had a second read Total and you’ve picked four brilliant questions that would give any Arsenal fan sleepless nights let alone the Arsenal manager…

    Was Arteta sending Leno a subtle message by picking Ryan for the Fulham game or was he giving Bernd a rest from the mental stress of being between our sticks? I really don’t know but if it was the former then it didn’t really work and it’s probably given Arteta more to worry about.

    What to do? I think you have to stick with Leno at this stage because if you drop him you’re basically saying he’s finished at Arsenal and then what does that really say about your decision to sell Martinez?
    Personally I’d be happy to see Ryan in goal because I’ve been unsure about Leno for awhile but I think that Mikel will play the safety first card.

  • And the next one please, yes left back another decision guaranteed to give you nightmares.
    Villarreal have this right wing speed merchant I keep on hearing about, the player with the scrabble winning name who is going to destroy us and so what to do?

    Well I’m not sure that dropping Gabriel into an unfamiliar position at left back is fair on him unless of course we switch to three at the back and he has Saka as his left wing back. But suddenly switching to a new system without trying it out first is risky even if our players should be used to it as that was how we started this season.

    Soares at left back in our biggest game of the season is enough to give me the heebie jeebies so I’m thinking that despite the Everton goal and the hand wringing over Granit that I’d still go with him as our left back.

  • Midfield, now that’s the eternal issue with this club, why solve it by signing enough quality players who you can rotate when you can give your fans a heart attack instead? Therefore we are left with Thomas Partey running the show on his lonesome if Xhaka is playing left back unless of course you want to pair him with Elneny and tell Mo to imagine that we’re playing Man Utd.

    I really don’t know what do do with this one because if you choose Ceballos he could well provide one of his spectacular all action performances or he could stink the place out, you just never know which Dani is going to turn up. Actually you could say that about our team in general, nobody could ever accuse them of being predictable.

    So I’m stumped on this one unless Odegaard plays a deeper role?

  • Lastly is the Arsenal attack, who leads the line in our most important game of the season to date?

    I guess that it all comes down to how fit Aubameyang is and if Arteta thinks he’s ready yet to lead the Arsenal attack and if not then he’ll probably be on the bench as a last resort.
    Arteta has given Eddie a chance but in this game I think you have to go with Martinelli and as we can use five subs both Nketiah and Balogun could be among the subs. Pepe, Smith Rowe and Saka will supplement the attack and then it’s down to who has VAR on their side…

  • Thanks Kevski,

    Great responses to the questions and I was hoping you would being calm and the answers. 😁😜

    It is quite a jigsaw for us and Arteta. Three at back with four in midfield sounds like a good possibility. Without a proper left back we may have no other choice.


  • Just like Total to get an already bedraggled and disoriented fan base go through a roller coaster of emotions, as we approach the most important game this season. But, we love an opportunity to say our twopence at times like this, whether Arteta surprises us or not.

    Well, for me, it is as simple as we play a mid table Spanish side, now managed by our former (penultimate) Manager (who has a reputation for keeping records of players’ weaknesses and strengths) in Spain….. throw on our fittest and most effective Spanish players (or our players with La Liga experience) who would have something to prove and a mix of our Latin American contingent (Willian on the bench, though) and allow them go out and impress. The instruction would be to ensure we are solid defensively and clinical upfront; don’t concede first (a clean sheet would be great) but cease upon their fears when they get nervous and pinch a couple of goals.

    In goal, I’d go with Ryan, just because I worry about where Leno’s head would be at the moment. This would be a source of concern with him, though and Arteta may not go with this but it is for the best.

    Left back? Only because Samuel Chukwueze is a tormentor of left backs, I’d spare Xhaka the direct role of checking him. Cedric can keep him quiet; however, I worry that Arteta hasn’t given him enough game time to thrust him into such a high profile match-up. Yet, he is Portuguese and should be good to go. Gabriel is a good shout too and it would mean we sacrifice creativity for solidity.

    Midfield should then have Xhaka, Partey and Ceballos (yes, he is Spanish and should handle it better). Odegaard should come on late on, methinks, fitness issues and all.

    If Auba isn’t fit, trust Arteta to start with Nketiah while Martinelli comes on later. Villareal never stop playing/moving, so Martinelli’s energy some time in the second half may prove invaluable. Nketiah knows what is at stake, has scored in Europe already and will be a bit more assured this time around. Let us trust him.

  • Interesting that Kanu Nwankwo accompanied parents and agents of both Kelechi Nwakali and Samuel Chukwueze to Arsenal, years back and instead of snapping up both youngsters, we went for Kelechi who never got to play once for us (except for a few U-23 games) before going on endless loan stints, reportedly for work permit deficiencies. As it turned out Chukwueze is the better talent with capacity to play at the highest levels.

    He would love to score against us. Need to keep him quiet, alongside Gerard Moreno and Paco Alcacer. The skipper, Dani Parejo is also a very good midfielder with an annoying sense of the dark arts of the game. We may also see a link up with Coquelin, our boy.

  • Sorry Total, my sensible serious Arsenal side has been pretty well shredded this season leaving only my ranting irrational Arsenal side winning the argument. 🙄

    I’m sure you’ve seen those Tom & Jerry cartoons where Tom is mulling over a decision and as he’s thinking things through a devil appears on one shoulder and an angel on the other whispering in his ear and trying to influence him, well that’s me at the moment… 😄

  • This season has been so energy sapping , The thought of our current and previuos coach/ manager trying to outthink each other does my head in to be honest. I am not expecting a classic, but you never know. One request start Martinelli.

  • ….cease = seize upon their fears**

    Not too sure about Kanu, but he does keep busy and gets about a lot. He has a few endorsement gigs going too. I imagine his pet project, the Kanu heart foundation, keeps him engaged trying to bring succour to kids with heart deficiencies; alongside his real estate businesses.

    By the way, I like the idea of a back three a bit, for the 1st leg, but would go Gabriel, Mari, Holding.

    Yeah, Bob Fisher. I also think that depending on who blinks first, game may start out a tactical borefest as one manager tries to both second guess and match the other. We’ll see how it goes.

  • Great writeup and plenty of ideas presented to ponder. As I alluded to in the previous match thread I cannot trust Leno at the moment but is it too big a decision for Mikel with all the pressure to win this tie. If it was my decision I would go with Ryan but I was thinking Mikel will stick with the safer decision yet as the game gets closer I am starting to feel he will pull the trigger and start Ryan. I am also fine with starting Soares at left back and moving Granit back into midfield. I also like that Soares and Pepe have had a few games where they combined well so I would start Pepe on the left with Saka on the right, For me Martinelli is ready to explode so he would lead the line with ESR running the show just behind him. I believe those four up top can really give Villareal a lot of problems with their pace, movement and energy. I expect Rob and Mari to continue in the middle and Calum to boss the right flank (and nick a goal over these two legs).

  • What do they mix in the water up there in Scotland, Total? Tierney is back in full training and even possible contention for the Villa Real game! Unbelievable. Can’t see him starting, but to get him fit for the second leg will be massive.

  • Yeah, I’ve just seen that Bob, according to Arteta he’s been ‘training like a beast’ so who knows what surprises Mikel has in store.

    Also fellas, fully involved in training are the triumvirate of Aubameyang, Luiz and Lacazette, so does Arteta have a fully fit squad as we approach make or break time in this season.

  • Thanks Makayah, always good to read your comments. I think Arteta will go for Ryan too. Maybe Leno has personal issues right now…. something has changed..

  • Agreed with moving back Xhaka into midfield, TA. We need him back there. We were a little short on creativity and we kept going round in circles.. we need to be ruthless and not allow our opposition time and space.

    If Odegaard is fit i will want him to play. If not, ESR have to play alongside Saka.

    Maybe start Balogun up front with Laca?

  • According to the Guardian Auba, Laca and Tierney are available for selection. That doesn’t mean that they are properly match-fit of course. Others report that Luis is available too.

  • Here are my predictions for the coming weekends games:-

    Brighton v Leeds – A
    Chelsea v Fulham – H
    Everton v Aston Villa – H
    Newcastle v Arsenal – A
    Manchester United v Liverpool – A
    Rangers v Celtic – A

  • Unless I missed the I’m still waiting for the predictions from:-


  • Brighton v Leeds – H
    Chelsea v Fulham – A
    Everton v Aston Villa – D
    Newcastle v Arsenal – D
    Manchester United v Liverpool – A
    Rangers v Celtic – H

  • I know people don’t like to dwell on it, but when Leno was injured at Brighton last season and Emi took over, we looked a better team iMHO. part of the reason was that Emi was far more commanding in the penalty area.

    A good friend of mine is a Brighton season ticket holder . He has said to me many times before he joined us that Ryan was a very good shot stopper but the general feeling is he isn’t quite tall enough to be a top class keeper.

  • Mikel Arteta had some good news ahead of our Europa League semi-final first leg against Villarreal.

    Our manager revealed that every player who had been out is now back in contention for Thursday’s match in Spain.

    This is what Arteta told the media:

    on the latest team news…
    They are all in contention. All of them. Including Aubameyang, Laca and Kieran. They are all in contention for the game. Yes [it is good news].

    on Tierney’s fitness…
    He didn’t need the surgery that we were afraid of at the beginning and then he’s been working like a beast every single day. I don’t know if he’s going to make it tomorrow but he certainly wants to be as close as possible to that football pitch to give himself the best possible chance.

    on whether he’s willing to risk players like Kieran and Auba because of the importance of the fixture…
    We do need them, because we know that we have some players that are in contention and they are the ones who can make the difference in a big tie like this. But the word risk, I don’t like to put players on the pitch if they can’t perform and they can’t feel secure that they can perform. If it’s a risk or we’re going to take a gamble, then I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.

    Copyright 2021 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to as the source.

  • Brighton vs Leeds Utd…. Home
    Chelsea vs Fulham………. Home
    Everton vs Aston Villa…. Draw
    Newcastle vs Arsenal…. Away
    Man Utd vs Liverpool….. Draw
    Rangers vs Celtic……….. Home

  • You’ve got to be kidding me, guys. Great news indeed, to hear we have all the injured players fit and firing again. The boost that gives the 11 selected to start is immeasurable.

    He looks like one who would rather play than be protected, but I would spare Tierney for the first leg but unleash him for the second leg.

  • My predictions follow:

    Brighton v Leeds – H
    Chelsea v Fulham – H
    Everton v Aston Villa – H
    Newcastle v Arsenal – A
    Manchester United v Liverpool – D
    Rangers v Celtic – H

  • Brighton vs Leeds Utd…. Away
    Chelsea vs Fulham………. Home
    Everton vs Aston Villa…. Home
    Newcastle vs Arsenal…. Away
    Man Utd vs Liverpool….. Away
    Rangers vs Celtic……….. Draw

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s