Just when the days of Arsenal leaving their best-paid player benched for important games seemed over, history has repeated itself in north London.
Mikel Arteta has defended his decision to drop Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang against Slavia Prague by pointing out the “real impact” the Arsenal skipper made coming off the bench.
Aubameyang has made headlines over the past week for the wrong reasons. An abysmal display in the 3-0 defeat to Liverpool last weekend forced Arteta to substitute him for the second game in a row, having previously left him benched in the 2-1 derby win over Tottenham. In fact, Auba has been accused of delivering “lazy” performances since signing a new bumper pay deal.
Jamie Carragher: "I think Aubameyang's performances this season have been lazy, at times. I dont care how many goals he gets – he's won Golden Boots in the past – but he's definitely a player who doesnt bring anything to this team if he doesn't score a goal & thats a big problem" pic.twitter.com/ajjLf2WLfT
— Gurjit (@GurjitAFC) April 5, 2021
Arteta’s decision, therefore, to drop his captain for arguably the club’s most important game of the season stood out.
“It was a big decision to leave some players out. But we played the team who had the best chance at the start of the game, and as well have some key players there to change the game when we need it,” explained the Arsenal boss in a post-match conference on Thursday.
“I think when they came on they had a real impact, which was very necessary for this competition, and they did what we expected them to do.”
To be fair, Arteta had a point. Aubameyang came off the bench and assisted fellow substitute Nicolas Pepe for Arsenal’s opening goal of the match. With only four minutes to spare, a home win seemed assured.
But an inability to see off the game allowed Tomas Holes to head in a stoppage-time equalizer for Slavia Prague at the Emirates.
The 1-1 draw in London means Arsenal must avoid defeat in Prague next week and score at least one goal to stand a chance of winning their Europa League quarter-final tie.