Unai Emery says Arsenal have big chance for Champions League return after three-year absence

Matt Jones - Editor 20:18 30/03/2019
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Mesut Ozil will be a key figure for Arsenal in their remaining eight games, according to Emery

Unai Emery claims Arsenal have a “big possibility” in front of them as they look to secure a top-four Premier League finish and a return to the Champions League for the first time in three years.

Having seen 19 straight seasons of elite European football since 1998, the Gunners missed out on a seat at the continent’s top table in 2017/18 after they stumbled to a fifth-placed league finish under Arsene Wenger the previous campaign.

The iconic Frenchman then bowed out after 22 years in the Highbury and Emirates hot seat in frustrating fashion with a second successive finish outside the top four.

Now under the tutelage of Emery, the Spaniard steered his side into the fourth and final Champions League spot before the international break following a 2-0 home victory over fellow top four rivals Manchester United.

They are battling with north London rivals Tottenham, United and Chelsea for the final two spots behind title-challenging Manchester City and Liverpool.

The Gunners have the easier looking run-in on paper as they don’t play another big six club in their final eight games, and Emery is confident of his team’s chances of a return to the big time.

“It’s of course our objective (the top four),” said the former Paris Saint-Germain coach.

“We have to wait. We are working and being competitive. Now, each match, we have a big possibility, especially after beating Man United, but we know it’s going to be difficult because we are fighting against big teams.

“But we are working very well and we are confident. We have chances in each match and each match is our next objective. Our next one is Newcastle in front of our home supporters and we have to enjoy it and each match, while trying to find three points.”

The 47-year-old took his squad to Dubai during the international break – at the end of which they faced Arabian Gulf League side Al Nasr in a friendly game to officially open their refurbished Al Maktoum Stadium.

The Gunners edged a closely-fought encounter 3-2 having fallen 1-0 down and been generally outplayed in the first half of the game on Tuesday.

Emery admits the top four is his priority even though Arsenal are also into the Europa League quarter-finals – where they face Serie A giants Napoli – and lifting that trophy would also see them earn a return to the Champions League, should they fail in their quest for a top four finish.

Emery, whose side return to league action against the Magpies at the Emirates on Monday night, added: “After that our second priority is the Europa League. We can play for one title and take chances in other ways to go to the Champions League.

“We are in a good moment with good confidence, with every player thinking and being in good moments physically. The players have connected here well and we are looking forward to the next matches. We have a big objective.

Unai Emery is looking to steer Arsenal back into the Champions League after a three-year break.

Unai Emery is looking to steer Arsenal back into the Champions League after a three-year break.

“The players wish to do something important this year and this break is the key to the next month for us to do that. It’s very important for us to be focused on this next month.”

Mesut Ozil captained the Gunners in Dubai and endured a typically enigmatic outing. Showing neat tricks and flicks, the much-maligned 30-year-old nevertheless drifted as his team struggled in the opening 45 minutes. Yet an impish bit of brilliance then teed up Alexandre Lacazette to put Arsenal 2-1 ahead – an advantage they would not relinquish.

And even though the relationship between coach and player hasn’t always been a healthy one, Emery said in his post-match press conference that Ozil is vital to Arsenal’s chances of a return to the Champions League.

“He will be very important for us against Newcastle and other Premier League matches,” said Emery.

“He’s a very important player especially with other players away with their international sides. We trained very well here and with no matches for two weeks to come here and play was very important. The players have a big responsibility and they work here very well.”

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Liverpool v Tottenham: Talking points as title challengers must reset after break

Aditya Devavrat 19:07 30/03/2019
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Liverpool will go back to the top of the league with a win.

The first big game after the March international break sees Liverpool host Tottenham in a clash that has implications on both the Premier League title race and the chase for a top-four spot.

With Manchester City winning on Saturday, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are back down into second place, and they can’t afford any more dropped points in their bid for a first league title since 1990.

Spurs, meanwhile, have been sucked into the top four battle after at times looking like they could be the third horse in the title fight, and arrived to this gameweek clinging onto third place.

Here’s a look at the talking points ahead of the game.

INTERNATIONAL BREAK ALLOWS LIVERPOOL TO RESET

The international break came at the perfect time for Liverpool. In nine league games between the start of 2019 and this short respite, Klopp’s side dropped points in six. That took them from seven points atop the table to one point behind.

With their fortnight off, however, they’ve had a chance to reset, gather themselves, and be ready for the final push. Crucially, Mohamed Salah was allowed to miss international duty by Egypt, which means he got some much-needed time off. There’s been a glaring lack of sharpness from last season’s PFA and FWA player of the year, which has led to a seven-game goal drought. But with a far more significant prize on offer, Salah should be raring to go at the perfect time.

It won’t be just him – Virgil van Dijk, among the frontrunners to take that award off Salah’s hands, has spoken of the need to snap into title charge mode, and that message should filter through the squad.

The last time they faced a north London side, Liverpool beat Arsenal 5-1, though that was right before their downturn in form. They’ll be looking for a fast start on the way to another statement win on Sunday.

AGE OLD QUESTION WITH TOTTENHAM: BIG GAME AWAY

Another away game against a top-six side, another moment to judge just how much Tottenham have progressed. This season they began with a 3-0 win against Manchester United, but have since lost to Arsenal and Chelsea.

After Sunday’s game, they have Man City to face, in theory putting themselves in the position of Premier League kingmakers. But on their form away from home, they’re more likely to be just another game for both sides to get through, rather than a real obstacle.

Tottenham are no doubt expecting a boost from the opening of their new stadium, but any momentum will only begin next week, when they finally inaugurate their new ground. It’ll be no help on Sunday.

But they can perhaps expect a bounce from the international break, albeit for different reasons. The last fortnight has seen Harry Kane, newly made MBE, among the goals, Dele Alli make a return from injury, and Christian Eriksen key a three-goal comeback for Denmark against Switzerland.

None of it will matter if they produce another limp display on the road against one of their rivals. Last season they managed a 2-2 draw at Anfield in a thriller, and in the midst of a tight race for the top four themselves, avoiding dropping points – or at least, a loss – will be huge for them.

MANE AGAINST TRIPPIER THE DECISIVE BATTLE

This game could boil down to one key battle: Sadio Mane against Tottenham’s defence. Mane has 11 goals in his last 11 games for Liverpool, and has picked up the slack while Salah has had his struggles.

It’s a surprise, in fact, that Mane isn’t getting much attention in the player of the year debates. While Van Dijk is the key player in Liverpool’s title charge and Raheem Sterling has been brilliant for City, Mane at least deserves to be in the conversation. There’s a case to be made that his goals have been nearly as crucial as Van Dijk’s defensive contributions.

On Sunday, he’ll be up against Kieran Trippier with Serge Aurier missing through injury. Trippier hasn’t had the best of seasons at right-back, a surprise after last summer’s World Cup, and a duel with Liverpool’s new main man is not the best time to try to hit top form.

It’ll be up to players like Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen to help Trippier out, with Mane’s movement likely to bring him into the orbit of the Tottenham centre-backs anyway. Given the form he’s been in, keeping him quiet will be crucial to Spurs’ hopes of getting something from this game.

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Everton star Richarlison on making Brazil dream come true and connecting with the community

Sport360 staff 10:15 30/03/2019
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We return to Premier League action at West Ham this weekend, determined to build some serious momentum on the back of what was a very encouraging 2-0 victory over Chelsea at Goodison Park two weeks ago.

That win against Maurizio Sarri’s team was important for a number of reasons, not least because we needed to close the gap on the teams up to seventh place in the table.

It was a great result, all of the team played well, and it means we still have plenty to play for between now and the end of the season.

My goal against Chelsea was my 12th in an Everton shirt and my aim is to keep improving.

I want to score in every match and to be in with a chance of finishing among the top scorers in the Premier League.

It is such a great feeling when you hit the back of the net and it means so much for me to be playing among some of the best players in the world.

I was really happy to join Everton last summer and the belief my manager Marco Silva and everyone at the club has shown in me has put me on an upward curve.

Everton is a special club with passionate supporters and a strong connection with the local community.

I have seen that with my own eyes whenever I have taken part in activities for Everton in the Community.

All clubs run community programmes, of course, but few, if any, can match Everton’s for size and scope.

From tackling gang culture and youth crime to supporting people with mental health issues, there is barely a part of life in Liverpool — and particularly in the L4 postal code that is home to Goodison Park and among the most deprived areas in Britain — that the club does not touch.

Seeing that strong connection between the Club and the wider community spurs you on as a player.

I have full belief in what we are trying to achieve here and moving to Everton has helped me to break into the Brazil squad.

I earned my seventh and eighth caps during the international break and it means so much to me to represent my country. It is a dream for many children to play for their national team and I am proud to have achieved that at the age of 21.

It is special to follow in the footsteps of players such as Ronaldo and Neymar, who were huge role models for me growing up.

I tried to mirror how they played and copied Neymar’s haircut as a child so you can imagine what it meant for me to play alongside him when I was first called up by Brazil!

Every Brazilian wants to play for the national team. Now I’m in the squad, but it’s important I keep working hard.

I want to prove I am worthy of wearing the shirt and further down the line, I want to win World Cups with Brazil and do the nation proud.

My aim is to keep improving for both club and country. I have a long road ahead and my focus must be to keep developing and taking on board any advice I am given.

As for our game against West Ham, Marco Silva and our coaching team have been looking at the opposition, meticulously studying them for any weaknesses we can exploit, and we go there with a gameplan.

I’m confident we can do well against West Ham and push on for the rest of the season.

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