Paul Merson has thrown his support behind Mikel Arteta’s decision to leave Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang out of the Arsenal team for last week’s North London Derby.
Arteta sprung a surprise when he left his star man on the bench for the meeting with Tottenham. He had been expected to start, but was dropped from the starting eleven following a disciplinary issue. It then emerged the Gabonese striker was late for a team meeting after getting stuck in traffic.
Many questioned the call, including Gary Lineker who described it as “dangerous”.
It is also understood that Aubameyang was far from pleased at the time. However, he has since insisted that the matter has been resolved.
But Merson has continued the debate around the situation, giving high praise to Arteta for taking stern action.
“I thought what he did in leaving Aubameyang on the bench for the North London Derby after being late for a team meeting was absolutely brilliant,” the ex-Gunners player said in his column for the Daily Star.
“It’s the best bit of management he will ever do in his whole career.
“Arteta has to think of the future of the club. And the future of the club is players like Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka.
“If they are sitting in that meeting and Aubameyang strolls in late and you let him play in the game, you’re opening the door for them to do it too.
“Now they know. Now, they will never be late. Because Arteta has stamped his authority on it.”
Despite falling behind in the first half, the decision to leave Aubameyang out didn’t prove costly. Arsenal fought back to beat their fierce rivals 2-1, an Alexandre Lacazette penalty earning them all three points.
Arteta ‘earnt respect’
Naming Aubameyang on the bench was controversial, with some claiming the punishment was too harsh.
But Merson went on to say Arteta’s standing amongst the Arsenal squad will have strengthened as a result.
“He will have earned the respect of all his players doing that – even people like David Luiz and Granit Xhaka who have been around the block,” he claimed.
“I guarantee you there will have been players coming out of that meeting going: “Wow!” because that is a big deal, dropping your captain and go-to guy.
“I’m sure Aubameyang didn’t mean to be late but there’s no excuse really. I bet there were players coming from further away than him who got there on time. Don’t blame the traffic – just leave earlier.”
One of Merson’s former teammates, Ray Parlour, has also said he believes Arteta did the right thing for similar reasons.