Martin Keown has warned Arsenal they will continue to suffer defensively without a natural left-back after highlighting an error from makeshift full-back Granit Xhaka in their Europa League semi-final 2-1 defeat against Villarreal.
The Gunners had their work cut out after an abject first-half display, in which saw Manu Trigueros and Raul Albiol gave the LaLiga side a healthy two-goal lead.
Despite seeing Dani Ceballos sent off for a second bookable offence, the visitors secured a crucial away goal when Nicolas Pepe converted from the penalty spot, blowing the tie wide open ahead of the second leg at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday.
Mikel Arteta has been forced to cope without regular left-back Kieran Tierney after the Scottish defender sustained a knee injury against Liverpool earlier this month, choosing Xhaka to deputise instead.
But former Arsenal defender Keown — now working as a pundit for BT Sport — raised concerns about the ease in which the Premier League side were carved open, after Samuel Chukwueze managed to breeze past the Swiss to set up Trigueros for the opener.
“You have to have a specialist left-back at this level, at any level,” Keown said after the match.
“That was always going to be a problem as it was against Everton the other day, Richarlison was a problem and it’s happened again tonight. And with Ceballos in front of him, there’s a double issue there.
“I think he’s [Xhaka] got to get out as quick as he can, extend his angle of approach, ferry him [Chukwueze] away… keep him out of the box.
“He invites him in, he’s pointing to Ceballos to try and get in front of him. It looks like the actions of a player who is not comfortable in that position.”
Keown also insisted that Arteta must take his share of the blame for failing to spot how the Spanish side, now managed by former Gunners coach Unai Emery, took advantage of Xhaka’s lack of familiarity with the role.
“The manager has put him there. It’s about the decisions of the manager,” he added.
“It’s not Xhaka’s fault, by the way. I do believe he’s the most improved player we have, he’s had a difficult time, but I think he’s been exposed.”
Former Arsenal interim coach Freddie Ljungberg echoed Keown's sentiment and explained why the midfielder was reluctant to confront his opponent.
“We know Granit’s weaknesses,” he said. “He’s a fantastic player with the ball and his left foot is very good.
“But he’s slower and one against one, he’s exposed, so that’s why he drops all the time because he doesn’t dare come up.”
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