Mikel Arteta rewarded for bold Arsenal team selection as belief bolstered ahead of crucial Slavia Prague clash

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Simon Collings
·2-min read
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<p>Mikel Arteta masterminded Arsenal’s win over Sheffield United</p> (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Mikel Arteta masterminded Arsenal’s win over Sheffield United

(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta will have left Bramall Lane on Sunday with confidence and a realisation that sometimes it is better to twist rather than stick.

The Spaniard was bold with his team selection for the 3-0 win over Sheffield United and thought outside the box.

Granit Xhaka played at left-back, Bukayo Saka operated as a No10 and Gabriel Martinelli was handed a rare start.

All of those calls paid off and, as well as giving Arsenal’s players confidence ahead of Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final second leg against Slavia Prague, they should have filled Arteta with belief, too.

In the first leg last week, which finished 1-1 at Emirates Stadium, Arsenal were tentative - perhaps because they were aware that their season was on the line. The same went for Arteta, who left it too late with his substitutions to change the game.

It means Arsenal trail on away goals going into the second leg but Sunday night’s win - admittedly against a Sheffield United team cut off at the bottom of the Premier League - was an ideal pick me up at just the right time.

Watch: Arteta still confident of Europa League progress

Arteta’s plan was spot on, exploiting the fact that Sheffield United don’t play with out-and-out wingers by deploying Xhaka at left-back.

Saka was moved centrally to take advantage of the lack of pace in Sheffield United’s midfield, while Calum Chambers and Pablo Mari were drafted into the defence to deal with the hosts’ direct approach.

The only negative on an otherwise enjoyable night for Arteta was Saka going off injured, with a thigh problem making him a doubt for Thursday. Emile Smith Rowe, Martin Odegaard and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could also miss out.

It means Arteta may have to get creative in finding a solution, but this win over Sheffield United will have shown it pays to to twist rather than stick.

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