Mikel Arteta stood by his decision to drop Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for Arsenal’s Europa League tie with Slavia Prague and backed his side to progress, despite a disappointing 1-1 draw in Thursday’s quarter-final first leg.
Club captain Aubameyang was named among the substitutes on the back of Saturday’s 3-0 loss to Liverpool and was not introduced until the 78th minute against Slavia with the game still goalless.
The Gabon international made an impact by playing in Nicolas Pepe for Arsenal’s opener eight minutes later – his 100th goal involvement for Arsenal in all competitions since joining from Borussia Dortmund in January 2018.
Arsenal failed to see out the victory on home soil, however, with Tomas Holes heading in a 93rd-minute equaliser that leaves the Gunners requiring at least one goal in next week’s return leg in the Czech capital.
But despite Alexandre Lacazette missing a glorious chance when played clean through on goal and Bukayo Saka also failing to convert from a good position, Arteta felt he picked the right starting line-up against Slavia.
“I think the players I selected stepped in and gave absolutely everything,” he said at his post-match news conference. “We managed the game really well. We were much more aggressive today and we created some big chances.
“When I made the substitutions I felt it was the right time to do so. Whether I should have done it earlier or not, who knows?”
Arteta confirmed ahead of the game that Aubameyang was left out for tactical reasons and he was pleased with the response shown by the striker, who has 14 goals in 33 appearances this season.
“When he came on he showed the right attitude,” the Spaniard said. “I cannot talk with everybody individually every week, but we try to be as transparent as possible.”
Holes’ late leveller was his first goal in major European competition in his 14th such appearance and leaves Arsenal with work to do in what is a make-or-break clash in Prague next week.
Arsenal are now winless in four matches and have failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their last 14 games in all competitions, but Arteta has full confidence his side will reach the semi-finals for a third time in four seasons.
“I totally believe that we can go there and win the match,” he told BT Sport. “We need to win the game. The mindset is to win the game. We need to score. We’ve done it before and we need to do it again.”
Thursday’s draw was the first time Arsenal have failed to beat a Czech side at home, but visiting boss Jindrich Trpisovsky accepted that Slavia had to ride their luck, even if they managed four attempts on target to their opponents’ two.
“We weren’t ourselves tonight. We gave them the ball very often without fight,” Trpisovsky said. “We need to see how Arsenal will adapt to our pitch. Theirs is superb and ours is not so. Tonight, we were lucky. They had chances they didn’t score.
“We made mistakes and kept losing the ball when we were in possession but then we were lucky with the corner and snatched the draw.”