Emery keen to follow Crystal Palace example and advance Arsenal academy graduates

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Arsenal boss Unai Emery has hailed Crystal Palace academy graduates Wilfried Zaha and Aaron Wan-Bissaka and insists he has plenty of his own young players pushing for a place in his squad.

The Gunners host Roy Hodgson’s Palace on Sunday and are looking to maintain their place in the Premier League’s top four.

While the Eagles have endured difficult spells during the campaign, Zaha and Wan-Bissaka have often stood out as star performers. They both came through the ranks at Selhurst Park and have been linked with moves away this summer.

Emery singled them out for praise on the eve of the Emirates Stadium clash and explained how nurturing young talent is an important part of his job.

“They are two very good players,” he said of Zaha and Wan-Bissaka. “They are improving a lot and giving Palace a big performance for their success.

“We have here also young players coming from the academy, training with us, playing some matches with us.

“My responsibility is to work with them and give them the possibility to train with us and show the capacity to get into the first team with regularity and also in the future show they can be important players for us.”

Arsenal return to north London having picked up two key away wins. They clinched a nervy 1-0 victory over 10-man Watford on Monday before securing progression into the semi-finals of the Europa League with another 1-0 success at Napoli.

Until then there had been questions about Emery’s side away from home but he believes they have provided the answer – especially after keeping consecutive away clean sheets for the first time since January 2017.

“I think we are being consistent and I think we are being consistent because we can find our best competitive way in each match,” the Spaniard added.

“The first thing is thinking about our game plan then adapting for the opposition but our process sometimes need patience and good results and the players, their focus now is very clear and in this moment they are very concentrated to use our best ideas.

“For example, defensively, clean sheets in the last matches were very important and they take confidence from the clean sheet and afterwards we didn’t lose our capacity in attack to score and win the matches.”

Arsenal will be without the suspended Sokratis Papastathopoulos while Aaron Ramsey misses out having limped off in Naples with a muscular problem.

Provided by Press Association Sport 

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Zayed Champions Cup: Al Hilal's grand conquest ends and other Etoile du Sahel talking points

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(Twitter/@UAFAAC).

Saudi Arabia giants Al Hilal’s dream of an unprecedented clean sweep of trophies was dramatically ended in the 91st minute of Thursday’s Zayed Champions Cup final when substitute Mohammad Methnani swept Tunisia’s Etoile du Sahel to a memorable 2-1 success.

Watched on by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, flamboyant Saudi Arabian adviser Turki Al Sheikh, former Crescent boss Jorge Jesus and Brazil legend Ronaldo at Al Ain’s Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, a drab match of few chances burst into life at the death. A swift move down the right wing saw Tunisia veteran Maher Hannachi produce a second assist of the night, his low cross being superbly swept in first time by Methnani.

Etoile had gone ahead upon the half-hour mark when Algerian striker Karim Aribi rose highest to nod in a corner. Weary Hilal – who are now more than halfway through a punishing April fixture list that contains nine matches in four different competitions – failed to shine, requiring a questionable penalty from ex-France striker Bafetimbi Gomis to level on 64 minutes.

Here are the talking points:

HILAL’S MARATHON MEN

Hilal’s all-encompassing plan to conquer the Saudi Super Cup, Saudi Professional League, King’s Cup, 2019 AFC Champions League and the ZSC is, definitively, over.

The onus now rests on head coach Zoran Mamic to ensure more trophies don’t go by the wayside.

That is if he gets the chance to advance. Less than three months since being poached from Al Ain, the 47-year-old’s position is under severe threat even though the top flight’s lead was reclaimed last weeks.

Regrets and recriminations could sweep him aside – fairly or unfairly – in the coming days.

The ex-Croatia international handed a watching brief to the likes of Australia defender Milos Degenek and Italy forward Sebastian Giovinco, amid different foreign eligibility rules.

A strong side that contained the likes of Brazilian talisman Carlos Eduardo, Al Dawsari, first-choice full-backs and Gomis dominated possession (70 per cent/30 per cent) without turning this into any opportunities of note.

Their pot shot from midfielder Mohammed Kanno was the best of a dreary first half.

After the interval, Gomis forced a brave block from goalkeeper Walid Kridene and there was the utterly bizarre sight of a free-kick deep into added time being passed back to unmarked Hilal shot stopper Abdullah Al Mayouf to weakly connect with.

Could Hilal be running out of steam, or was the ZSC sacrificed for wider ambitions?

SUPER SAHEL

Etoile have ruefully taken a back seat to rivals Esperance de Tunis this season.

They sit a distant third – 10 points behind the pacesetters – in the 2018/19 Tunisian Ligue Professionnelle 1, while they’ve had to settle for a deep run in the CAF Confederations Cup at the same time as their rivals look to claim successive CAF Champions League crowns.

In Thursday’s match, the guidance of 77-year-old Euro 2000 winner Roger Lemerre was key as they, largely, contained Hilal’s threat in the second half.

Mali centre-back Mohamed Konate was both a rock and unlucky to see a penalty conceded for his challenge on Saudi Arabia winger Salem Al Dawsari, plus rangy skipper Yassine Chikhaoui utilised all his experience to threaten on the counter-attack.

This resolute win in the Garden City could now reset the recent order in Tunisian football.

The $6 million winners’ prize is both the biggest-ever awarded to an Arab side, plus represents a figure close to their annual budget.

Spend this windfall wisely and a first top-flight crown since 2015/16 could be theirs next term.

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Football fixtures: PSG get fourth shot at Ligue 1 title party, Man City battle for Premier League

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An exciting round of league fixtures await us this weekend from across Europe as title races are, potentially, decided and battles against relegation rage.

Paris Saint-Germain will be eager to finally seal the Ligue 1 crown, while Stuttgart will hope for salvation in the Bundesliga.

As always, we will help you plan your weekend by picking out the best of the bunch:

PREMIER LEAGUE

Man City v Tottenham

When: Saturday, April 20

Kick-off: 15:30 (UAE)

Familiar foes meet for the second time in four days – and third time, overall, this month – when Premier League holders Manchester City welcome top-four hopefuls Tottenham Hotspur.

Fresh from Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final decider, the sides will run-out once again at Etihad Stadium.

Hosts City should need a perfect four wins from their remaining four top-flight fixtures to retain their crown. Wednesday’s derby at United further complicates matters.

Spurs hold only one point more than fifth-placed Chelsea, meaning they equally can’t slip. Tension defines this clash.

LA LIGA

Getafe v Sevilla

When: Sunday, April 21

Kick-off: 16:00 (UAE)

Clubs moving in opposite directions meet on Sunday at Coliseum Alfonso Perez.

Hosts Getafe looked certainties for a debut Champions League campaign, before winning just one of their last five La Liga matches to slump into fifth.

Sevilla looked dead and buried when their excellent start to the campaign unravelled. But Joaquin Caparros’ decision last month to ditch Pablo Machin and promote himself to head coach from director of football has led to an emboldening surge back into fourth.

His third stint in charge reached its, early, apotheosis with last week’s 3-2 derby win versus Real Betis. They’ll now take some stopping.

SERIE A

Inter Milan v Roma

When: Saturday, April 20

Kick-off: 22:30 (UAE)

The time is now for Roma if they are to hold any pretensions of pipping one of the Milan giants to Champions League qualification.

A trip to third-placed Inter awaits on Saturday, opponents they sit six points and – critically – two places behind.

Claudio Ranieri’s troops have found some form, winning their last two games 1-0.

They now face a side who’ve weathered the furore that surrounded star – and wayward – striker Mauro Icardi.

The Argentina striker has scored just once in 11 previous clashes with the Giallorossi. Now would be an opportune moment to improve on this, surprisingly, dismal record.

LIGUE 1

Paris Saint-Germain v Monaco

When: Sunday, April 21

Kick-off: 23:00 (UAE)

Are we finally going to see Paris Saint-Germain enjoy a title party?

Wednesday’s 3-1 loss at lowly Nantes meant Thomas Tuchel’s men blew a third-successive chance to seal a sixth Ligue 1 crown since 2012/13.

It’s hardly panic stations. A 17-point gap to second-placed Lille remains, despite the ignominy and hubris of recent weeks caused by much-changed sides slipping up.

They should now relish a chance to prevail on home soil against fallen giants Monaco.

Leonardo Jardim’s men, however, won’t make it easy. The Portuguese has lost one of 10 Ligue 1 games upon his return.

BUNDESLIGA

Augsburg v Stuttgart

When: Saturday, April 20

Kick-off: 17:30 (UAE)

If five-time Bundesliga champions Stuttgart are to avoid the vagaries of a relegation play-off, they need to start winning matches – fast.

A meeting with 14th-placed Augsburg provides an invaluable opportunity to make up ground. Just a second triumph in 17 matches, in all competitions, could propel Markus Weinzierl’s troops to within one victory of safety.

Augsburg, however, scored three unanswered goals to defeat high-flying Eintracht Frankfurt 3-1 last time out. Forward Marco Richter got a double last weekend to end his drought for the season and he’ll be eager to extend this run versus the division’s second-worst defence.

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