Mikel Arteta revealed that a group of senior Arsenal players asked him whether they could take a knee prior to their resounding Europa League quarter-final win at Slavia Prague, with the club and Uefa giving the green light to make a gesture that held added significance on the night.
The Slavia Prague defender Ondrej Kudela was banned for 10 matches on Wednesday for racially abusing Rangers’ Glen Kamara, a former Arsenal player, during their last-16 tie in March. Arsenal’s players, led by Alexandre Lacazette, took a knee before kick-off and gazed ahead while their opponents remained standing in a line beyond the centre circle; it was a powerful image and Arteta explained a group of “captains” – likely to have included Lacazette and Granit Xhaka – had discussed it in advance.
“They asked me and the club that they wanted to take that initiative,” he said. “They had the right reasons for it, so the club was very supportive. I think it was a good gesture.
“We spoke with the club to make sure we could follow the rules of Uefa and we can do it in the right way. We decided to take that approach, which I really like from the players, and I must say Uefa was very supportive as well. The captains came to me and asked me to do that, and I just supported them like the club did.”
Arteta was also proud of his side’s exploits during an evisceration of the Czech champions, who were breached three times in six first-half minutes and again late on when Lacazette scored his second goal of the game. “Credit to the players for how they approached the game and how brave they were,” he said. “We were brave, we were efficient, we put them under a lot of pressure, and in the final third we were really clinical.”
Bukayo Saka, who scored the third goal, and Emile Smith Rowe were both outstanding and Arteta described the academy products as “a joy to watch”. They helped carry the fight in the absence of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who announced shortly before the game that he had spent time in hospital this week with malaria.
“He had two days in hospital to get the right treatment, but he’s feeling good now,” Arteta said. “He will need a few days to recover, but he wants to be back as soon as possible.” Sunday’s Premier League game with Fulham is likely to come too soon for the Arsenal captain.