Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has told Alex Runarsson to ignore criticism of his game, despite dropping him from his Europa League squad.
The Iceland international moved to the Emirates Stadium from Dijon in the summer but has been limited to four appearances in the Europa League and a start in the Carabao Cup quarter-final loss to Manchester City.
It was the game against City in which he made two errors and was widely questioned on social media about whether he was good enough to play for the Gunners.
Runarsson was signed as a third-choice goalkeeper but found himself in the role of back-up to number one Bernd Leno after the club sold Emiliano Martinez to Aston Villa and failed to land a replacement.
Leno is banned for the trip to Aston Villa on Saturday after he was sent off in the 2-1 loss at Wolves, while January loan signing Mat Ryan has a hip injury which has prevented him from training of late.
That could mean Runarsson, who came off the bench against Wolves, makes his first Premier League start for Arsenal – with Arteta keen for the 25-year-old to stay focused.
“He works really hard and he has fit in really well around the dressing room,” Arteta said.
“He is a really nice boy, really humble, and he needs to be away from all the comments and focus on his work, focus on improving.
“This is what you face when you play for a big club – people expect when you go out there for you to give your best and perform at the top level – and if you don’t you are going to get criticism.
“You know that, before you join the club, that you are exposed all the time to critics and, as well, if you do really well everybody is going to be praising more than at any other club.
“You have to be able, if you want to play here, to handle that pressure.”
Arteta also said he had no problem in calling on Runarsson to play in the Premier League despite axing him from his Europa League squad for the rest of the season.
Goalkeeper plan ‘not executed’
Asked if it would be a strange situation for the former Nordsjaelland player, Arteta replied: “No, Alex knew his role before we signed him.
“We had a plan on the goalkeeper’s position and we could not execute the plan the way we wanted because of different reasons.
“But Alex’s role was very clear around the squad and that hasn’t changed, then he needs to earn his opportunity and earn his place – whether that is third, second or first (choice) depending on his performance and he needs to push for that.”
Leno’s red card for handling the ball outside of the penalty area at Molineux was the ninth time an Arsenal player has been sent off in the Premier League since Arteta took charge in December 2019 – five more than anyone else in the league.
Although he insists there is not a discipline problem in his squad, Arteta did admit the number of red cards – and subsequent suspensions – are damaging the club’s hopes of a return to the top four.
“What is clear that when you have five red cards in this period (this season) you are going to lose a lot of points,” he added.
“If we had some of those points we would be in a completely different position in the table, that’s for sure. There are no teams with five red cards that are at the top, it doesn’t happen.”