Mikel Arteta said he axed captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for Sunday’s north London derby victory over 10-man Tottenham to sustain Arsenal’s long-term “foundation”.
The Gunners skipper was dropped to the bench for a breach of the club’s pre-match protocol as he watched his team-mates come from behind to win 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium.
Alexandre Lacazette replaced Aubameyang and scored the winner through a second-half penalty after Martin Odegaard had earlier cancelled out a sublime rabona finish from Spurs substitute Erik Lamela – who was later sent off for picking up two quick bookings as the visitors chased the game.
With both sides very much of the periphery of the race for the Premier League top four and no Emirates Stadium crowd, it felt like a shadow of previous north London derbies.
But this was a big win for Arsenal and manager Mikel Arteta, especially after his decision to leave out Aubameyang before kick-off.
Asked why it was important for him to set such standards by dropping his captain for a crunch game, Arteta replied: “Because for me they are the foundation and the platform that we can build something medium and long-term that is sustainable and that can bring us joy and happiness.
“Without that, I don’t believe that it would happen. That’s why I keep talking about it and acting about it.
“I made what I thought was the right decision and we draw a line there and now let’s move on again.
“We know how important Auba is for us and for the the club and that’s it. It’s been dealt with, now let’s move on.”
The win moves Arsenal four points behind Spurs but they remain outsiders to break into the top four – although Arteta is refusing to give up on the race.
“I think while it’s mathematically possible, we’re going to believe and we’re going to give it a go for sure,” he added.
“We know that we have to be extremely consistent to have any chance in the next two or three matches to be very close to them. But we’re going to give it a go and keep trying, going game by game.”
Spurs boss Jose Mourinho bemoaned the penalty decision that went against his team and claimed some of his players were “hiding” during the match.
“We played really bad in the first half,” he told Sky Sports.
“The 1-1 was not a fair reflection of the first half. We were poor. Defending bad. No intensity or pressing.
“Some important players hiding. Really bad. In the second half we only had space to improve.”
The Portuguese then questioned his record in matches refereed by Michael Oliver – who pointed to the spot after adjudging that Lacazette had been fouled by Davinson Sanchez.
“No post-match interviews for referees? That is a pity,” he said.
“It is a question – but an impossible one as they don’t speak – for the referee Michael Oliver to answer.
“Probably Paul Tierney too as he was the VAR. According to Kevin Friend, the referee told him he had a clear decision and the VAR does not want to go against.
“The second half was our half and when we made the changes we made them to win the game because we felt the game then was under control.
“Then the crucial action of the game arrives, I don’t want to call it a penalty because that is an offence to penalties.
“With 10 players we were a team, then we deserved something out of the game.”