Mikel Arterta: Arsenal boss says his players had 'right reason' to take a knee ahead of Slavia Prague Europa League game

Alexandre Lacazette captained Arsenal in the Europa League on Thursday night; before kick-off the striker took a knee in front of the Slavia Prague line-up in a stand against racism; Arteta said: "The captains came to me and asked me to do that, and I just supported them like the club did"

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Mikel Arteta pledged his support to Alexandre Lacazette who took a knee in front of the Slavia Prague players, with his Arsenal team-mates doing the same behind the striker

Mikel Arteta says his Arsenal players had the "right reason" to take a knee in front of their Slavia Prague opponents before the Europa League quarter-final second leg clash.

With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missing after contracting malaria, Alexandre Lacazette wore the captain's armband on Thursday night, and before kick-off the France striker took a knee in front of the entire Slavia line-up in a stand against racism, with his team doing the same behind him.

Slavia were without Ondrej Kudela, the defender hit with a 10-game UEFA ban on the eve of the match having been found guilty of racially abusing Rangers midfielder Glen Kamara in their round of 16 clash.

Asked about the gesture, Arteta explained that his players had requested permission to make a stand.

"They asked me and the club that they wanted to take that initiative," he added.

Glen Kamara lashes out at Ondrej Kudela, later telling his manager he was racially abused by the Slavia Prague defender 1:47
Former Arsenal defender Viv Anderson backs the team taking a knee before their Europa League game against Slavia Prague after Ondrej Kudela's 10-match ban for racially abusing Rangers' Glen Kamara

"They had the right reasons for it, so the club was very supportive. I was supportive and thankfully the referee, and UEFA, they've been supportive. So I think it was a good gesture.

"They came to me, they wanted to take that initiative. We spoke with the club to make sure that we could follow the rules of UEFA and we can do it in the right way.

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"We decided to take that approach, which I really like from the players, and I must say that 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."

Players of Arsenal takes a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement as players of Slavia Praha looks on prior to the UEFA Europa League Quarter Final Second Leg match between Slavia Praha and Arsenal FC at Sinobo Stadium on April 15, 2021 in Prague, Czech Republic.

Arsenal went on to make a fast start to the game as they shocked the hosts with a fine first-half display, hitting three goals in six minutes en route to a 4-0 win on the night to reach the Europa League semi-finals for the third time in four years.

Academy graduates Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka both starred for the Gunners, who Arteta said are a "joy to watch". Smith Rowe had a goal ruled out by VAR for offside before Nicolas Pepe opened the scoring, Lacazette then converting a penalty after Saka was fouled before the England international added the third himself.

Lacazette struck again in a more timid second half to see Arsenal through 5-1 on aggregate and into a last-four clash with former head coach Unai Emery and his Villarreal side.

It was Emery who gave both Smith Rowe and Saka their senior debuts for Arsenal during his 18-month reign at the club as Arsene Wenger's successor.

Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Southampton and Arsenal at St Mary's Stadium on January 26, 2021 in Southampton, England.
Image: Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe starred in Arsenal's Europa League victory over Slavia Prague on Thursday night

The pair have now gone on to become important parts of Arteta's squad and the Spaniard was delighted with their performances.

"For me it is a joy to watch them play, to watch them every day in training," Arteta said when asked about the performances of Saka and Smith Rowe.

"How they behave, the passion and the commitment they have for the club. And then how much they like to play football.

"You have to let them express themselves, and give them certain frameworks to work in and some ideas on how they can exploit their qualities. Then it is up to them and I thought both of them were really good today.

Arsenal Manager Mikel Arteta and Bukayo Saka of Arsenal after the Premier League match between Leicester City and Arsenal at King Power Stadium on February 28, 2021 in Leicester, United Kingdom.
Image: Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta with Bukayo Saka

"Credit to (all) the players, for how they approached the game and how brave they were in their approach.

"We were brave, we were efficient, we put them under a lot of pressure. And in the final third we were really clinical.

"We know how important the competition is."

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Kevin Campbell believes the image of Alexandre Lacazette taking a knee against Slavia Prague will be ‘iconic for years to come’, while Mikael Silvestre has criticised the length of Ondrej Kudela's ban for racially abusing Rangers' Glen Kamara

After wasting a hatful of good chances in the first leg, Arteta called for his side to be more clinical.

They dispatched Sheffield United in the Premier League on Sunday with a comfortable 3-0 win and, with Smith Rowe in for Gabriel Martinelli in the only change, they held that same lead in Prague with less than 25 minutes on the clock.

Both results came without captain Aubameyang, who revealed on Instagram before the Slavia game that he contracted malaria while on international duty with Gabon last month.

Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang dejected after going down under a challenge during the Premier League match at The Emirates Stadium, London 0:49
Mikel Arteta says striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is recovering well and is hoping to be back in action soon

Asked about his absent skipper, Arteta replied: "We just spoke with him. He's at home, he's fine. He had two days in hospital to get the right treatment, but he's feeling good now.

"We will see how he recovers. I think he will need a few days to recover from that, but he wants to be back as soon as possible. That's what he said to me.

"When he wasn't involved against Sheffield, two days before he wasn't feeling good, but nobody could expect that was the case.

"They did some more tests and that's when it came up and straight away the doctor realised very quickly what had to be done and they did a great job. He's safe and he's feeling good."

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