Arsenal head coach Unai Emery refused to defend Granit Xhaka after his captain swore at fans after being substituted during their Premier League draw with Crystal Palace.
The Gunners had flown out of the blocks and were two goals ahead inside 10 minutes, only for Palace to fight back and earn a 2-2 draw.
But the talking point came after 61 minutes as Xhaka – a decisive figure among Arsenal supporters – was substituted for Bukayo Saka.
Xhaka’s withdrawal was initially greeted by large cheers, which soon turned to jeers as he took his time to leave the pitch despite the score being level.
He reacted by waving his arms, cupping his ears and seemingly mouth “f*** off” twice as he pushed away a handshake from Emery, took off his shirt and headed straight down the tunnel.
A thrilling draw may have ensued but it was Xhaka’s antics which will now dominate the coming days and Emery – who has backed the 27-year-old amid growing criticism – admitted the Switzerland midfielder acted incorrectly and refused to confirm if he would retain the captaincy.
“He was wrong, He was wrong,” Emery said when asked about the situation.
“Now we need to stay calm and speak with him, to speak inside about that reaction. His reaction was wrong in that moment.
“We are here because we have supporters. We are the workers inside, but we play for them. We need to have a lot of respect from them, through applause and criticism.
“It’s not the moment to speak about that (if Xhaka will stay as captain). First, I want to speak with him and the club, and we want to stay calm before we speak about that. He was not right to do that.”
The day had started so well for under-fire Emery as Wayne Hennessey came off his line but got nowhere near Nicolas Pepe’s corner – with Gary Cahill unable to clear the box with a header as Xhaka nodded down for Sokratis Papastathopoulos to fire home.
It got even better for the hosts as they doubled their lead 106 seconds later from another Pepe corner, Alexandre Lacazette flicking on for David Luiz to poke home from point-blank range.
Despite their early dominance, Arsenal let Palace back into the game as VAR overturned referee Martin Atkinson’s decision to book Wilfried Zaha for diving, instead awarding Roy Hodgson’s men a penalty for a foul by Calum Chambers.
A point was secured as Jordan Ayew headed in, Sokratis then having a late goal controversially chalked off by VAR for a supposed foul in the build-up.
“We can speak about our performance and also the referee’s decision with VAR,” he added.
“We deserved to win. They scored the goal with VAR, and maybe it was a penalty, so we need to respect the decision.
“I was thinking it was a penalty but the referee decided no. The referee also said Zaha’s was simulation, and I thought ‘OK’, but then VAR said penalty. OK, perfect, we respect that.
“For me VAR is positive and we need VAR. But we need to manage that in the right way. At the moment, to us it’s not working well.”
For Roy Hodgson’s Palace, it was a well-earned point and the former England boss offered a different assessment of the VAR as his counterpart.
“I’m pretty certain Martin (Atkinson) is pretty comfortable with the VAR decision,” he said.
“His spur-of-the-moment decision turned out to be the wrong one and I’m certain he’s man enough to accept that and be glad that it got overturned and the right decision was made.
“Their second goal was a clear push on James McArthur so we could have been sitting here having lost 2-0 saying that goal should have been disallowed.
“I could have been complaining bitterly that the referee was relatively kind to Arsenal for allowing the rugby tackle and allowing the player to stay on the field.”