Arsenal head coach Unai Emery has called for a “very big performance” from his players on Sunday as they face a Manchester United team brimming with confidence.
While the Gunners slipped to a humbling 3-1 Europa League defeat at Rennes on Thursday, United’s celebrations were still ongoing after they had beaten Paris Saint-Germain by the same scoreline a day earlier.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have now won their last nine away games, including an FA Cup victory at the Emirates Stadium in January.
The two teams are involved in a keenly contested battle for a place in the Premier League top four, with United currently a point clear of their weekend hosts in the final Champions League qualification spot.
Emery conceded Arsenal will be coming up against a team enjoying a fine run of form and knows his players will have to deliver a strong display to inflict just a second defeat on Solskjaer since he was appointed caretaker manager in December.
“They are in a very good moment but we are together in the table,” said Emery.
“We played against them one month ago in the FA Cup, we lost 3-1 but I remember we did very good things, created chances.
“We know Sunday is a tough match and it is for everybody an amazing match with very good players and we are going to play at home with our supporters.
“We need to have a very big performance from each player and tactically like a team but I am looking forward also to playing against a team like Manchester United and how they are in this moment with each player – very big confidence after the PSG match.
“But with our supporters, I want to create a big atmosphere, a positive atmosphere for us and help us to give us the best and strongest support for the match.”
Lucas Torreira will be forced to sit out the United game after being handed a three-match ban for his red card against Tottenham in the 1-1 draw at Wembley last week.
After defeat in Rennes, Emery played down any suggestion of a lack of discipline in his squad – with Sokratis Papastathopoulos sent off and Alexandre Lacazette having missed the tie through suspension.
Arsenal had started the game well in north-west France but – once Sokratis was dismissed four minutes before the break – the game swung in favour of the hosts.
Emery is hopeful his players will not be negatively affected by having to toil for so long with only 10 men.
“We are finding for each match fresh players and different energy and for Sunday I think it is going to be the same,” he added.
“After the match in Rennes I think every player worked a lot and we are going to look for the next match how we can be with every player.
“I am positive for Sunday that we can take the first XI with fresh players, with energy, quality and the possibility to do a very big performance against Manchester United for an opportunity to win against them.”
Pep Guardiola insists allegations of malpractice at Manchester City cannot taint his legacy or the achievements of his side.
The Premier League champions are facing investigations from a number of organisations over matters such as financial impropriety, recruitment of academy players and third-party ownership.
Many of the claims predate the arrival of Guardiola as manager in 2016, since when the club have excelled.
They won the Premier League with a record 100 points last season and are in contention for an unprecedented quadruple this year.
Guardiola said: “When you are fighting people want to underestimate what you achieve.
“I’m not too much concerned or worried about what people say if we win the title just because (of) what happens now with UEFA (and) they do not give us credit for what we have done. Believe me, I don’t care. Absolutely zero.
“I know exactly what the guys are doing for the last two seasons and more.
“If we have made mistakes we will be punished. It is what it is on and off the pitch, but I’m pretty sure what we have done is incredible.
“I don’t know whether it is important for the rest of the people but it is important for ourselves. When we do it (win trophies) it belongs to us and nobody is going to change that.”
Asked if he was concerned these issues could affect his legacy, Guardiola said: “No, absolutely not.”
On Friday the Premier League confirmed it had a probe into City under way. That came a day after European governing body UEFA announced it had launched a formal investigation into allegations of breaches of its Financial Fair Play regulations.
A statement read: “The Premier League has previously contacted Manchester City to request information regarding recent allegations and is in ongoing dialogue with the club.
“The League has detailed financial regulations and strong rules in the areas of Academy player recruitment and third-party ownership.
“We are currently investigating these matters and will allow Manchester City every opportunity to explain the context and detail surrounding them.”
There have been reports that world governing body FIFA is also looking into the issues concerning academy player recruitment and third-party ownership. The Football Association, meanwhile, is investigating a claim City made a banned payment to the agent of then 14-year-old Jadon Sancho when he joined the club from Watford four years ago.
Sancho, who is now an England international, left City for Borussia Dortmund in 2017. Watford are understood to be monitoring the situation following reports they could also take action.
City have denied all allegations against them, many of which were made in a series of articles by German publication Der Spiegel. City have claimed “the attempt to damage the club’s reputation is organised and clear”.
Responding to the UEFA investigation, City said in a statement: “Manchester City welcomes the opening of a formal UEFA investigation as an opportunity to bring to an end the speculation resulting from the illegal hacking and out of context publication of City emails.
“The accusations of financial irregularities are entirely false. The club’s published accounts are full and complete and a matter of legal and regulatory record.”
Speaking at a press conference to preview Saturday’s game against Watford, Guardiola expressed confidence in the club and urged authorities to deal with the matters quickly.
He said: “I think the club made their statement yesterday, I can’t add more than that.
“The club is open, so hopefully it can finish as soon as possible and UEFA can decide what it sees.
“I said last season I trust a lot what the club has done because I know them. Hopefully they can solve it as soon as possible.”
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United pulled off a miraculous win against Paris Saint-Germain, beating the French league leaders 3-1 in Paris on Wednesday to advance to the Champions League quarter-finals, but a day later Unai Emery’s Arsenal were losing by the same scoreline to a Rennes side 34 points behind United’s opponents in Ligue 1.
Only one point separates fourth-placed United and fifth-placed Arsenal, who have managed four goals in each of their two meetings this season as the sides shared the points in December after a chaotic 2-2 draw in Manchester before Solskjaer masterminded a 3-1 FA Cup win in London at the end of January.
SOLSKJAER’S RUTHLESS STREAK MAY BE ON SHOW
United’s midweek win was the high point of Solskjaer’s remarkable reign at the club, a result that has almost certainly secured the permanent managerial job for the club legend and has lifted spirits for everyone at Old Trafford. A minor inconvenience stemming from the result, however, is the selection headache it’s provided for the Norwegian.
Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic are both set to return from injuries on Sunday, while Paul Pogba only missed the game in Paris through suspension. The Frenchman is probably the only one guaranteed to walk back into Solskjaer’s starting XI.
Herrera and Matic have formed the backbone of most of the manager’s unbeaten start to life at the club, but not only have United won the last three games without them, the performances of Fred and Scott McTominay in Paris mean dropping them would be cruel.
Managing a football team can be a ruthless job and the coming weeks will show just how much the affable, much-loved club idol can maintain morale when he has to make the hard decisions. Sunday might be slightly easier – he can leave Herrera and Matic on the bench saying they need time to regain full match fitness or that Fred and McTominay need rest – but he’ll have to drop two players soon enough.
Fred’s game by numbers vs. PSG:— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) March 6, 2019
32/39 passes completed
7 ball recoveries
6/6 accurate long balls
3 tackles won
2 fouls won
Showed his UCL experience. 🇧🇷🔥 pic.twitter.com/IdMBtCLwRm
MKHITARYAN MAY PLAY WITH POINT TO PROVE
Henrikh Mkhitaryan may approach this game with a point to prove – though the man he would most like to prove it to will be watching from thousands of miles away.
Jose Mourinho brought the playmaker to England in 2016, but it never quite worked out for him at United, and last winter’s move to Arsenal in a deal that sent Alexis Sanchez the other way seemed to be the best decision for all parties involved.
Given Sanchez’s decline since then, United would probably beg to differ, and the form Mkhitaryan has started showing in recent weeks at Arsenal may make some wonder how he’d fare in Solskjaer’s new, attacking outfit.
Mourinho could be permitted to have a chuckle at the most recent development in the 30-year-old’s career – on Thursday, Emery said he trusted Mkhitaryan to play at right-back, an ironic turn of events since the move from Manchester to London was supposed to help him flourish in a role where he was freed from defensive responsibilities.
But Emery’s faith in the former Borussia Dortmund star shows how far he’s come in a year at Arsenal. Meanwhile, entering last week’s game against Tottenham, Mkhitaryan had managed two goals and three assists in two games, and it was his pass that set up Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s penalty which the striker duly missed. The Armenian truly is beginning to thrive.
Mkhitaryan in the Premier League.— WeAreÖzil (@WeAreOzil) February 27, 2019
Man United 39 games, 6 assists
Arsenal 27 games, 8 assists.pic.twitter.com/8v9xlF75U6
ARSENAL’S HOME FORM COULD BE TRUMPED BY UNITED’S AWAY RUN
If Arsenal could replicate their home form in their away games, they’d be title contenders. Their record at the Emirates this season is the joint-second-best in the league, with their only loss at home coming on the first day of the season as Emery had the unenviable task of facing Manchester City – the only team to take more points at home than the Gunners – on his Arsenal debut.
Normally that would be a reason to go into this game with confidence, even on the back of Thursday’s loss to Rennes in the Europa League – another poor away performance. But only Tottenham and Liverpool have more points away from home in the league than United, who have won nine straight away from home across all competitions – a perfect record on their travels under Solskjaer.
That run includes Wednesday’s dramatic win in Paris, the sort of result that would make United feel they could beat anyone, anywhere. And it also includes a win at the Emirates, Arsenal’s home record notwithstanding.
Memories of that 3-1 FA Cup win earlier in the year will be fresh in the mind for both sides – not least because of Jesse Lingard’s dance after scoring the Red Devils’ second goal. United pulled off a classic counter-attacking win, and Arsenal know their home fortress can be vulnerable. Do the visitors actually have the edge in this game?
Man Utd have won every single game away from home under Ole Ole Gunnar Solskjær:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 6, 2019
Clean sheets: 5
When Ole’s at the wheel, anything is possible. 🚗 pic.twitter.com/ILkUpowupS