Granit Xhaka applauded Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for proving he had “cojones” when taking the late penalty in Saturday’s north London derby, despite seeing the spot-kick saved.
Arsenal were held to a 1-1 draw at Wembley by their bitter rivals, with Harry Kane’s 74th-minute effort from 12 yards cancelling out Aaron Ramsey’s opener.
Things could have been much better for the Gunners, but Aubameyang was unable to convert from the spot in second-half stoppage-time after being nudged over by Davinson Sanchez in the box, with Hugo Lloris denying the striker.
A win would have seen Arsenal move to within just one point of third-placed Spurs, but Xhaka is refusing to blame Aubameyang and is still convinced the Gunners’ mentality can help them secure Champions League football next season.
“If you take a penalty in the derby, you have cojones — big balls,” Xhaka told reporters. “Not all of the players would have taken this one.
“So, we are happy he took the penalty. If he scores, he scores. If he doesn’t score, he doesn’t score. This is football.
“In this moment you have to leave the player alone, because he has a lot to think. He was, of course, not that happy, but we are a team, and we win and lose together.
“So, he was unlucky, but he helps us a lot in games, so it’s not something big.
“Two weeks before, Tottenham were 10 points in front of us. Now they are four. If we won, it would be one.
“That’s life. That’s football. We have to keep working, keep improving things, the good and the not so good.
“After Arsene Wenger left, a lot of things changed at this club. We are happy with the coach and we have improved a lot, and we work a lot.
“It will be a big step if we return to the Champions League. We want to. It’s not easy, but we will keep working.
“Of course, it is important. Two times in three years we did not play in the Champions League and a club like Arsenal has to play in the Champions League. We need to show that on the pitch.
“But it’s not the last game [in which] we will fight like this. We have a good spirit and a good mentality, and we fight altogether. In the end, with a little bit of luck, we could have won this game.
“It’s not about [catching up with] Tottenham, it’s about the other teams as well. In the Premier League you not only have two or three teams, you have a lot of teams who want to be there.
“We are now near the end of the season and we want to take the points that we need.”