Arteta defends selections after Villarreal defeat

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Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta has fiercely defended his team selection after his side's 2-1 Europa League semi-final first leg defeat away to Villarreal on Friday (AEST).

Arteta fielded Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka at left-back while he also started without a recognised striker, with Emile Smith Rowe in the most advanced role and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang coming off the bench.

The Gunners went behind 2-0 after half an hour and were reduced to 10 men after Dani Ceballos' 57th minute sending off.

But Arsenal pulled a goal back from Nicolas Pepe's 73rd minute spotkick after Bukayo Saka was tripped inside the box claiming a precious away goal.

"It's the way we prepared for the game," the Spaniard said at the post-game press conference about his selection decisions.

"It's the decision that I made, thinking that it was the best way to play, but the game was conditioned after four minutes so it was difficult to assess whether it would work or not.

"Conceding from the set piece as well also changed it and after, we had to approach it in a different way."

He said: "Obviously when you lose you always get [selection] wrong.

"When we won 4-0 away from home against Slavia Prague, they didn’t lose a home game in three years and Granit played so well, he was incredible playing there but I know that when it doesn’t happen, it’s always going to point there."

Arsenal will host Villarreal in London next Friday (AEST) with a spot in the decider on the line, against either Manchester United or Roma, with Arteta delighted with their away goal after their early deficit.

"It changes completely the tie obviously, and it makes a huge difference and we know that we have to be better than we were for 95 minutes," Arteta said.

"If we don’t do that then we won’t have the chance to be in the final."

He said: "After the story of the game, I think we have to take it because in the tie we are alive and in the circumstances that developed during the game, it put the game and the tie in real danger at some stages."


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