Rio Ferdinand says you ‘have to respect’ Mikel Arteta’s ‘massive decision’ to bench Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for turning up late to Sunday’s north London derby and reckons he probably would have done the same if he was the Arsenal manager.
Aubameyang had started the Gunners’ previous two games versus Burnley and Olympiakos but was axed from the lineup to face Tottenham and replaced by Alexandre Lacazette, who went on to score the winner in the hosts’ 2-1 victory at the Emirates.
And while the Arsenal captain had already been warned about his poor time-keeping this season, he was reportedly ‘furious’ with Arteta and left the stadium just 23 minutes after referee Michael Oliver blew the whistle for full-time.
However, it’s understood senior and influential figures in the dressing room backed the Spaniard’s hardline approach and understand that the call was made to stamp out any end-of-season complacency which may have been creeping in.
Discussing Arteta’s bold decision on Rio Ferdinand Presents FIVE, the ex-Manchester United defender said: ‘Getting to a stadium late, it has to be disciplined. Discipline has to come into it.
‘It was a massive decision from Arteta. It’s the derby, man! Against Spurs, local rivals, bragging rights up for grabs, trying to get into the Europa League, there’s big things to consider when you’re making a decision like that.
‘But I think he’s thinking of the bigger picture: “I have to make my squad aware and well aware that punctuality, among other things, has to be on point. The captain was late and he’s going to have to sit like everybody else on the bench for this game, I’m afraid.”
‘I think you have to respect that. Aubameyang and myself in that situation, if it was a mistake time-wise and it was down to traffic or whatever, I’d be sitting there pissed.
‘But I think the other players, the manager would have got a lot out of it because it’s that respect: “Actually he’s done it to the biggest player in this changing room, the captain, we all better stand in line.”
‘If they lost then there would have been a different narrative around this, I’m sure. But for being brave, he got his reward.’
Ferdinand admits he would have been ‘super pissed’ if he was Aubameyang and had a legitimate excuse for reporting late for duty.
‘Sometimes a manager has to hit the biggest player for the others to get in line and this is what it seems like to me,’ the legendary former England centre-back added.
‘I think Arteta, sitting down after the win, will be going, “Do you know what? Everyone needed that because maybe some people were falling out of line, punctuality on a daily basis might have been slacking and I needed something to shift everybody’s mindset”, and this might have been a good tool to use.
‘They won so you can’t argue. But if I’m Aubameyang and I had a genuine excuse, I am super pissed but you have to take it.’
He went on: ‘There’s no bigger date in the calendar than the north London derby for Arsenal and he’s done it on the biggest, biggest weekend for them against their north London rivals with his captain.
‘It’s a big, massive call. Would I have done it? It’s not about Aubameyang… if I felt that the squad needed it and it would improve things in the squad in terms of attitude and application on a daily basis, punctuality for other people as well…
‘In general, in the changing rooms I’ve been in, the manager would normally go to the leaders and more experienced players to get a reaction from others so I probably would have followed suit.’
Arteta refused to elaborate any further on the reason for Aubameyang losing his place in the starting XI other than it was due to a ‘disciplinary issue’.
But the Arsenal head coach said he was keen to draw a line in the sand and the Gabon striker could return to the fold on Thursday night when the north London giants take on Olympiakos in the second leg of their Europa League last-16 tie.