Big Match

Doubts over staying power

Arsenal's Nacho Monreal turning a cross past his own custodian Petr Cech and into goal for Rennes to lead 2-1 in their Europa League last-16 first leg at Roazhon Park. The French Ligue 1 side lead 3-1 on aggregate.
Arsenal's Nacho Monreal turning a cross past his own custodian Petr Cech and into goal for Rennes to lead 2-1 in their Europa League last-16 first leg at Roazhon Park. The French Ligue 1 side lead 3-1 on aggregate.PHOTO: REUTERS

Pundits blast Arsenal after flop at Rennes as Emery issues wake-up call for United clash

LONDON • Unlike their top-four rivals, Arsenal have, on paper, the easiest run-in with none of the top six sides left to play after tomorrow's Premier League game at home to Manchester United.

However, there is a reason why pundits and bookmakers have placed them behind Tottenham, Chelsea and United to qualify for the Champions League next term.

When the Gunners continue to show the same weak mentality that punctuated the final few years of Arsene Wenger's tenure as they did at Rennes, crumbling 3-1 in the first leg of their Europa League last-16 tie, it invites questions about their ability to stay in the race.

Unai Emery's men were awful on Thursday night and were powerless to stem the dominance of Julien Stephan's team after the first-half dismissal of defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos.

The French Ligue 1 side won with strikes from Benjamin Bourigeaud and Ismaila Sarr, and an own goal by Nacho Monreal, after Alex Iwobi had opened the scoring for the visitors.

With their away form "a bit of a disaster", Martin Keown deems the Emirates clash to be "season-defining".

POWERING UP

I'm positive that with fresh players, with energy, with quality, that we have the possibility to put in a big performance against United and win against them.

UNAI EMERY, Arsenal boss, who wants every player to step up for the Premier League clash that could make or break their top-four hopes.

The ex-Arsenal defender told BT Sport: "They have been inconsistent, but their next game is at home and they have been strong there.

"Manchester United could be the perfect team to play next for Arsenal, the fans will demand it (the win) so bring them on.

"The problem Emery is having is he is not picking his best team. You have to pick your best team, I know Aaron Ramsey is leaving but, if you have to play him, so be it."

Pundit Michael Owen also feels "Arsenal cannot afford to lose the game if they want to get into the top four".

The former Liverpool and United striker told BT Sport: "It's really important for Arsenal.

"If Manchester United win and go four points clear, then it's going to be hard for Arsenal. They have got the momentum as well.

"Tonight (in France) was a big disappointment, no getting away from it. But that's what Arsenal are, they're an inconsistent team. You never know what team is going to turn up."

Emery has called for a "very big performance from each player" ahead of tomorrow's clash.

He said: "They (United) are in a very good moment, but we are together in the table and we played against them one month ago in the FA Cup (fourth round) - we lost 3-1, but I remember we did very good things, we had chances.

"We know Sunday is a tough match, an amazing match for everybody, we will be at home with our supporters."

"I'm positive that with fresh players (striker Alexandre Lacazette is expected to return to the starting line-up after being suspended in Europe), with energy, with quality, that we have the possibility to put in a big performance against United and win against them."

And goalkeeper Petr Cech dismissed suggestions the defeat at Roazhon Park would be damaging for team morale, insisting that Arsenal could "still overcome a two-goal deficit because in the end, the (away) goal we scored might play a big part (in the second leg next Thursday)".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2019, with the headline 'Doubts over staying power'. Print Edition | Subscribe