Arsenal Protests Racism With A Pregame Knee And An In-Game Beatdown
12:41 PM EDT on April 16, 2021
Ahead of their Europa League quarterfinal match against Slavia Prague on Thursday, Arsenal players, led by captain Alexandre Lacazette, took a knee in front of their Czech opponents. The London club's anti-racism statement came a day after a Slavia player was suspended for racially insulting former Arsenal player Glen Kamara during the Czech side's previous Europa tie against Rangers.
Slavia defender Ondrej Kudela was banned for 10 games on Wednesday for racially abusing Kamara during a round of 16 match on March 18. That ban was immediately criticized, in opposite directions. Former Scotland striker Chris Iwelumo found it too small a punishment; Czech government official Vratislav Mynar found it obscene and overly punitive and said it would open the floodgates for reverse racism against non-black players. Clearly, both sides must always be heard.
Kamara had played in the Arsenal youth academy for three years, and made one senior team appearance for the club in 2015. He eventually landed at Rangers in 2019, and has been a solid presence in the club's midfield. The incident with Kudela, in which the Czech defender allegedly whispered racist insults in Kamara's ear, also saw the Finnish midfielder hit with a three-match ban for his agitated reaction:
Nick Ames at the Guardian speculated that Lacazette and Granit Xhaka were among the players to ask Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta for permission to take a knee before kick-off, something that Arteta said he and the club supported from the go: “They asked me and the club that they wanted to take that initiative. They had the right reasons for it, so the club was very supportive. I think it was a good gesture." Though the Premier League and its fans have grown accustomed to seeing players take a knee, given that clubs have been doing so before matches since the coronavirus restart, it's nonetheless striking to see Arsenal bring the gesture into European competition, especially in light of the context with Slavia and Kamara.
Of course, symbolic gestures don't win soccer games, but the Gunners also backed up the statement on the field by absolutely demolishing Slavia. Thanks to two goals from Lacazette, Arsenal turned a 1–1 draw in the first leg into a 5–1 aggregate victory, with Thursday's 4-0 victory over pretty much from the start:
For its part, Rangers announced on Friday that it will host Arsenal in July of this year as part of the Scottish club's 150-year celebration. Though the negotiations for such a friendly likely took place before Thursday's show of solidarity from the London side—the two clubs have a connected history, dating back to the middle of last century—the timing of the announcement is fitting.