Mikel Arteta has explained his decision to drop several Arsenal stars – including skipper Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – for the Europa League clash with Slavia Prague.
Arteta axed captain Aubameyang as well as Nicolas Pepe and Dani Ceballos as he made six changes for Thursday’s quarter-final, following the Gunners’ 3-0 loss to Liverpool at the weekend.
Youngsters Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe were given the nod to face Slavia, as well as Granit Xhaka, Willian, Hector Bellerin and Cedric Soares, with Kieran Tierney injured, Martin Odegaard left out as a precaution and Calum Chambers also missing out.
After the dismal defeat to Jurgen Klopp’s side, pundit Gary Neville branded some of Arsenal’s front six a “little mafia” who looked “disinterested” in playing for their manager.
And Arteta opened up on his changes ahead of Thursday’s first-leg clash at the Emirates, saying he had picked a team he believed could get the Gunners off to the best possible start – a telling comment given he had dropped his captain to the bench.
“We had to pick the right team to try and start the game in the best possible way and as well have the options to change the game,” the manager told BT Sport.
“In Europe we have the possibility to make five subs and that’s a big thing. We want to use our full squad in the best possible way.”
On playing Cedric at left-back – with no left-footed player on that flank – Arteta said: “Cedric has played well. We know it’s not his preferred position but it’s a solution we had to find.
“Kieran will be out for a few weeks, I think, and he will be missed because he brings something unique to the team, but other players have to step in.”
Asked how Arsenal could pick themselves up after their defeat to Liverpool, Arteta said: “It’s out of the system now. We’re fully focused on the importance of these games and play with the ambition and passion these games deserve. If we do that we’re going to be in a good place.”
After that defeat, Neville said he felt a “disconnect” between Arteta and some of his players was evident.
Speaking on on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football, he said: “We don’t know what goes on behind the scenes at Arsenal, but I have to say there’s a few of those players in the front part of the pitch who looked like a little mafia against Liverpool.
“It looked like a group of players who weren’t comfortable, like there was a disconnect between them and the manager.
“The manager looked like he’d had enough of them. He had that glazed-eye look.
“It’s instinct, but we’ve been around football for long enough to know when a group of players are disinterested.”