Mikel Arteta was left “extremely proud” of his Arsenal side after they squandered a victory to draw against Leicester on Tuesday night – but insisted goalscorer Jamie Vardy should have been sent off well before the Gunners were reduced to 10 men.
The north London outfit led through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s first-half finish but Vardy earned the Foxes a late point to avoid slipping within one defeat of fifth-placed Manchester United.
But Leicester only scored their equaliser, with Vardy netting his 22nd Premier League strike of the campaign, after Arsenal had substitute Eddie Nketiah dismissed.
Nketiah was sent off after catching James Justin high on the knee with his studs on the half-way line, having only replaced Alexandre Lacazette just four minutes earlier.
VAR deliberated the decision and after consulting the pitch-side monitor, referee Chris Kavanagh opted to change the initial yellow card he had handed to Nketiah to a straight red.
But Arteta felt that if the 21-year-old striker’s tackle was a foul then Vardy too should’ve been given his marching orders by the referee.
After tussling for the ball with Shkodran Mustafi before half-time, Vardy’s studs accidentally dragged across Mustafi’s face as the pair fell to the ground.
And Arteta believes the visitors were fortunate to see out the remainder of the match with all 11 players on the pitch considering Nketiah’s red.
Speaking to Sky Sports after the final whistle, Arteta said: “I’m extremely proud of our team, the way we played against this type of opposition, how dominant we were, the first half that we made where clearly we should’ve gone 3-0 or 4-0 up and killed the game.
“That’s what you have to do in this type of game. With the red card decision, he doesn’t see the player, you have to know that it is a young kid.
“It can be a red card but then Leicester has to play with 10 men after 42 minutes, for one challenge that is between the 40 and the 45 minutes, that has to be a red card as well.”
Asked to clarify which incident, Arteta added only: “One challenge that is between the 40th and the 45 minutes.
“I don’t understand the rules since I’ve been in this country. The last year I’ve never seen a referee check any of the images.
“It’s the rules, I can do nothing now.”
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Asked if Arsenal will appeal the decision to upgrade Nketiah’s punishment from a yellow to a red, Arteta admitted he did not know.
The Gunners were on the cusp of moving back into the top six, cutting the gap to fourth-placed Leicester to six points and moving within three points of fifth-placed Manchester United, before Vardy’s equaliser.
It means that with four games left, Arsenal are sat nine points behind Leicester in fourth and 10 behind third-placed Chelsea.
United are five points ahead with Wolves on 52 points to Arsenal’s 50, though both of those sides have a game in hand on the Londoners.
And Arteta continued: “We lost two points today in my opinion that we completely deserved.
“We lost Eddie, I don’t know, they will decide now for how many games.
“It doesn’t matter. We will go to Spurs on Sunday and to try to win the three points.
“They played tremendously as well. The fixtures that we have in terms of recovery time is really, really difficult but you can see the effort, the intensity and the quality. I’m extremely proud of our players.
“We have to learn that when you play against this opposition, you have to kill them. When you have them, you have to kill them.
“This is the fourth time that I’ve been here that we play with 10 men and it’s not possible for that long a period to play against this opposition, you’re going to suffer.
“I didn’t like the goal we conceded but it’s part of what it is.”
Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers added: “It was a clear red card. I don’t think young Eddie tried to make the challenge that he did.
“He is obviously stretching for it. But you can clearly see the ball has bounced up, he’s stretching his leg and I’m thankful JJ [Justin] wasn’t injured worse than the challenge that he had. I felt it was a red.”
While Nketiah’s Arsenal team-mate Kieran Tierney offered his own post-match assessment, saying: “I had a view. To me, it looked totally accidental.
“Obviously, I’ve not seen it slow like the referee got a chance to. For me, it’s accidental and Eddie’s not the kind of player who would do anything like that.
“I’ve not seen it back but for me it looked accidental.”
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