Giggs confirms Ramsey absence

Wales will be without star midfielder Aaron Ramsey for their opening European Championship qualifier against Slovakia in Cardiff on Sunday.

The 28-year-old sat out the 1-0 friendly victory over Trinidad & Tobago on Wednesday, with Dragons head coach Ryan Giggs having hoped the Arsenal ace would recover in time to feature at the Cardiff City Stadium this weekend.

However, Ramsey has now been ruled out and has returned to his club for treatment.

Giggs told reporters: "It's a blow, especially the form he's been in, but it gives a chance for somebody else.

"We made sure we had a Plan B and we've worked on that during the week. We're going to miss someone like Aaron, but we've prepared for it as well.

"It's important for us to get off to a good start, but it's not going to be easy. They're coming here with three points and we'll have to be up for it.

"We want to be competitive in every qualifying campaign, that's the level we need to be at consistently.

"It's difficult because we don't always have the same players available, but we want to get to a consistent level in terms of partnerships across the pitch."

Wales last faced Slovakia at the European Championship finals of 2016, with the Dragons winning the group game in Bordeaux 2-1 thanks to goals from Gareth Bale and Hal Robson-Kanu.

They can be backed at 11/10 to win the game on Sunday and are 8/1 to triumph by a 2-1 scoreline, with Real Madrid ace Bale – who is expected to feature after an injury of his own – 11/10 to score at any time.

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Giroud hints at Blues exit

Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud has admitted that he may well have to consider his future at Stamford Bridge, as he is frustrated at a lack of starting opportunities.

The 32-year-old France international has scored nine goals in nine appearances in the Europa League this season, but has been restricted to just six starts in the Premier League, with the January arrival of loanee Gonzalo Higuain hampered his chance of gaining further game-time.

And Giroud says that that situation is starting to frustrate him, with the former Arsenal frontman having just 12 league starts to his name since his move from the Gunners in January 2018.

He told RTL: "Of course it is frustrating. Today I have the impression that there is clearly no competition since January.

"I know that I will only play in the Europa League. I try to do what it takes to be the most effective and the most important for the team.

"My future may be hectic this summer. I am not afraid to go down a level to have more playing time and it could be that I end my career in France."

Chelsea and Giroud have been drawn to face Slavia Prague in the quarter-finals of the Europa League, which currently offers the Blues a route back into the Champions League next season.

In the league they currently stand in sixth place, three points behind fourth-placed Arsenal.

The Blues are available at 2/1 to finish in the top four come the end of the season, while they are 7/4 to go all the way and win the Europa League.

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Sarri questions Blues mentality

Maurizio Sarri accepted that his Chelsea players are still struggling to show a consistently tough mentality after seeing the Blues beaten 2-0 by Everton at Goodison Park.

The Italian head coach has voiced his concerns about the same problem on several occasions this season, and Sarri was again to play down suggestions that the defeat was due to tactical issues.

He told reporters: "We played probably the best 45 minutes of the season and then suddenly at the beginning of the second half we stopped playing – I don't know why.

"The situation was clear, it's clear the problem is not a physical problem – if it was physical you would go down gradually, not in one second. It's probably a mental block.

"The problem was mental on the pitch, so the system and the tactics are not important. And it wasn't about motivation because we started very well.

"We have to play eight matches now and we have to fight for our possibilities."

The reverse on Merseyside left the Londoners three points adrift of the top four, with Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United all involved in a four-way battle for a Champions League spot.

Chelsea could also qualify for that competition by winning the Europa League, in which they have reached the quarter-finals and been drawn to face Slavia Prague.

The Blues are available at 7/4 to win the Europa League, while they can be backed at 2/1 to finish in the top four in the Premier League.

Meanwhile, Arsenal are 8/15 to earn a top-four spot and 5/1 to claim Europa League glory.

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Rafa looking for one more win

Newcastle United boss Rafa Benitez believes one more victory could be enough to ensure that his side preserve their Premier League status at the end of the season.

The Magpies have lost only one of their last six league games to move seven points clear of the relegation places, with their latest outing seeing grab a late equaliser in a 2-2 draw at Bournemouth thanks to a superb volley from Matt Ritchie against his former club.

However, Benitez thinks that is still a little more work to do before he and his players can celebrate top-flight survival.

He told reporters: "We have to keep going, the job is not done. We have to keep winning games.

"I think it could be 38 points, it depends. Obviously, 40 is guaranteed for me. I think 38 will be enough, so we have to keep winning if we can."

Of the battling qualities of his team, he added: "The players showed character. They were working really hard until the last minute.

"In the end the team showed what we were expecting in this kind of game. We tried and we got the point, but maybe it could have been even more."

Following the international break, Newcastle return to action on Monday 1st April when they face testing trip to the Emirates Stadium to take on Arsenal.

Earlier this season goals from Granit Xhaka and Mesut Ozil secured a 2-1 win for the Gunners at St James' Park, with the lone reply from the hosts coming from Ciaran Clark.

Newcastle are 7/2 to earn a point at the Emirates, with the Tynesiders 1/1000 not to be relegated this season and 150/1 to suffer relegation to the Championship.

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Gunners handed tough Italian job

Arsenal have been handed a tough draw in the Europa League as they get set to face Serie A giants Napoli in the quarter-finals.

Gunners boss Unai Emery is chasing a fourth Europa League title as manager after he managed three successive wins at Sevilla.

First the north Londoners will have to get past Napoli, who have been going well under manager Carlo Ancelotti this season.

Meanwhile, fellow Premier League side Chelsea take on Slavia Prague in their quarter-final draw.

Villarreal will go head-to-head with fellow Spanish side Valencia, while Portuguese outfit Benfica will play Germany's Eintracht Frankfurt.

The first and second legs will be played on 11th April and 18th April, with the semi-final draw keeping the Gunners and the Blues apart should they get that far.

Arsenal are 5/1 to win the Europa League League this season, while Chelsea are 7/4 to claim the title.

Europa League Quarter-Finals:
Napoli v Arsenal
Villarreal v Valencia
Benfica v Eintracht Frankfurt
Slavia Prague v Chelsea

Europa League Semi-Finals
Napoli or Arsenal v Villarreal or Valencia
Benfica or Eintracht Frankfurt v Slavia Prague or Chelsea

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Arsenal can win Euro title – Emery

Arsenal boss Unai Emery feels his side can go all the way in the Europa League this season after their 3-0 win over Rennes on Thursday night.

A brace from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and a goal from Ainsley Maitland-Niles ensured it was the Gunners who progressed 4-3 on aggregate to reach the quarter-finals.

Emery was delighted with the result and now the former Sevilla and Paris Saint-Germain boss feels his side can do something special in the competition this season.

The Spaniard said: "We can feel the possibility of winning this title."

"The last eight teams are very important teams and it is going to be very difficult," Emery added. "The Europa League is giving us a big opportunity also to make one way to the Champions League.

"And also, it's one title. I said to the players, I am excited about this competition. It's not just because you can get to the Champions League."

The Gunners are looking to win the competition for the first time under manager Emery, who managed to win it on three occasions with Sevilla.

Arsenal are 4/1 to win the Europa League this season, while London rivals Chelsea are 11/4 to claim the title.

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Stephan wary of Lacazette threat

Rennes head coach Julien Stephan admits he has had to change the preparation of his players for their clash with Arsenal due to the availability of Alex Lacazette.

Les Rouges et Noirs defeated the Gunners 3-1 in the home first leg of their Europa League last-16 tie a week ago, with the French side hoping to complete the job at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday evening.

However, Stephan has been forced to adapt his approach to the game after an appeal against a three-match ban for Lacazette saw his punishment reduced to two games, leaving him free to feature on Thursday.

Stephan told reporters: "The timing is rather surprising for everyone involved. We didn't think that he would be included up until Tuesday evening.

"They have decided to reduce his sanction from three to two games and that is great for him. Now we are going to have to prepare with that in mind.

"It changes a lot of things because with Lacazette they can play more formations, including the 3-5-2 with two strikers, which they played against Manchester United.

"Obviously his presence changes the facts, but we have got 24 hours to prepare ourselves."

France international striker Lacazette has scored in five of his last eight Premier League appearances, but has only one goal to his name in the Europa League so far this season.

He can be backed at 4/5 to score at any time against Rennes on Thursday evening, with Arsenal 6/1 to win the game 2-0 in 90 minutes, while Rennes are priced at 19/20 to qualify for the quarter-finals of the competition.

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Lacazette boost for Gunners

Unai Emery feels having Alexandre Lacazette available for the Europa League visit of Rennes may help Arsenal turn the last-16 tie around.

Despite grabbing an early lead in France last week, Arsenal went down 3-1 to Rennes, ending the game with ten men.

They also lost away from home in the first leg in the previous round to BATE Borisov before turning things in their favour with a 3-0 Emirates success.

Lacazette will be available after his three-match ban picked up against BATE was reduced to two on appeal, and Lucas Torreira returns from a domestic ban to boost the home side.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan however faces a late fitness test having say out Sunday's 2-0 Premier League win against his former club Manchester United.

With a need to attack, Emery is relieved to be boosted by the news that French striker Lacazette can feature.

"We all know how important Alex is to us as a group," said the Spaniard.

"Obviously the more players we have available the better it is because we do have some quality players, particularly in midfield and up top. Hopefully we will be able to make that danger pay.

"Let's just hope that Lacazette can help us to achieve the result on Thursday."

Arsenal are 3/10 to win the second leg and 19/20 to qualify for the quarter-finals. Rennes meanwhile are 10/1 to win in north London.

Alex Iwobi put Arsenal ahead last week, before the game seemingly turned when Sokratis Papastathopoulos picked up a second booking before half-time.

"I think in terms of the game last week it was a very different game until the red card to Sokratis," added Emery.

"I think we were in control of the match and we'd obviously taken an early lead, but the red card did change things and Rennes were able to take advantage of things.

"With that being said, we do have confidence that we're going to give a very big performance tomorrow and go through to the next round."

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Emery: Consistency is key

Unai Emery has backed his Arsenal players to remain consistent in the remaining eight matches of the Premier League campaign.

The Gunners are 8/11 to finish in the top four after beating Manchester United 2-0 on Sunday, a result that leaves Emery's team fourth in the table.

They are two points ahead of United after the encounter and three clear of Chelsea, who have a game in hand on all the teams above them.

Arsenal have won six of their last eight league games but are now without a top-flight match for three weeks. They face Rennes in the second leg of their Europa League round of 16 clash on Thursday having lost the first match in France 3-1. Emery's team are 1/1 to qualify for the quarter-finals.

After watching Granit Xhaka open the scoring against United and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang score from the penalty spot, Emery said: "I think each player has their qualities and Xhaka is a specialist with shooting. He can shoot from different positions on the pitch and his shooting is very dangerous. But I think he can do more.

"We are going to play the next match here against Newcastle in three weeks and that's a long time. Our focus now is Thursday[against Rennes].

"We are going to analyse the match and also in the table we are in a better position, but Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham are with us. We are going to play some difficult matches and being consistent is very important. We need to keep this consistency in our mind."

Premier League: It’s Advantage Arsenal and Unlucky 13 for United in top-Four Race

Arsenal 2-0 Manchester United

Gunners, 2; Ole Gunnar, 0.

In the 200th league meeting between the sides, this Premier League clash – with so much history behind it – was evenly contested and still in the balance until a poor decision to award a penalty 21 minutes from time.

Once that was converted, Arsenal had daylight and leapfrogged their opponents into fourth place.

How crucial this result will become remains to be seen but, for now, at least, it’s advantage Arsenal.

Highlights of the game

Unsurprisingly, there was little between sides who came into the game separated by one point with both striving for the potentially lucrative carrot that the fourth spot holds – a place in next season’s Champions League.

The sides had already shared four goals earlier in the campaign, and another closely contested encounter was expected by us fans.

Both sides, boosted by the result earlier in the day at Stamford Bridge, welcomed back key players from their midweek encounters.

Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba’s return strengthened United’s midfield with Anthony Martial deemed fit enough to be on the bench, while Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang returned to the home side’s starting line-up.

There was a frenetic pace from the outset with a number of dangerous balls flashing across the face of both goals.

Chasing a seventh consecutive away league win, a feat they last achieved in 1993, Manchester United hit the woodwork twice in the first 20 minutes.

First, the in-form Romelu Lukaku hit his shot into the ground and off the top of the crossbar from Luke Shaw’s inviting delivery.

Then Brazilian midfielder Fred then saw a drive from the edge of the box thud against the post and away to safety.

By that time, Arsenal were in front thanks to a superb strike.

Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka doesn’t score many goals, but they tend to be special when he does.

This was no exception as he took aim, and his piledriver swerved past the helpless David de Gea – one of the Premier League 2019 highlights.

Alexander Lacazette may have doubled the hosts’ lead, but his shot was blocked by Chris Smalling. Marcus Rashford played in the powerful Lukaku who held off two defenders and rounded Bernd Leno before the German stopper did well to recover.

United threatened again before the break when Pogba, Lukaku and Diogo Dalot split open the home defence, and it took a crucial challenge from Xhaka to deny Rashford as he lined up a shot.

Into the second half and United had the edge.

Leno stopped Lukaku when he should have scored, and Rashford went close with a free-kick before he was stopped by the German goalkeeper.

There was also some dogged defending from Laurent Koscielny on his 250th Premier League appearance.

Jonathan Moss has given a penalty kick for Aubameyang that led to Arsenal's Premier League win over Manchester United

Referee Jonathan Moss gestures to a Manchester United player during their Premier League clash against Arsenal

Then the pivotal moment came. Lacazette easily went to ground under a challenge from Fred, and referee John Moss incorrectly awarded a spot-kick.

Aubameyang converted and the Premier League 2019 betting odds, and the race for the top four had taken another twist.

Lacazette should have made it three after Victor Lindelof misjudged the bounce of the ball.

If Rashford had put his header either side of Leno in stoppage time, instead of straight at the keeper, there may have been a nervous final few moments for Arsenal.

But the north Londoners had the points, and interim United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s unbeaten league record (won 10, drawn two) since being appointed in December was finally over.

Key statistics

Ten of Arsenal’s 14 Premier League victories over United have been in games played on a Sunday.

Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 15 home league games (won 13, drawn two), winning the last nine.

Their three defeats in the previous 42 top-flight matches at the Emirates Stadium all came against the two Manchester clubs: two versus City, one against United.

Arsenal have earned 41 Premier League points at home this season, a tally exceeded only by City’s 45.

The Gunners have taken 12 points from nine games against established top-six rivals this season (won three, drawn three, lost four). They earned just six points in total in such matches last term.

1×2 Bayern Munich @ 2.09 Liverpool Asian Handicap +0.25 @ 2.08 Total Goals 2-3 @ 1.93CLICK HEREDisclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.UEFA – Champions League

Unai Emery has become the first Arsenal boss to avoid defeat in his first two top-flight meetings with United since George Swindin in 1958-59.

This was Chris Smalling’s 200th Premier League appearance for the club. He also played 13 times in the division for Fulham.

What’s next?

It’s the second leg of Arsenal’s Europa League last 16 tie on Thursday (March 14). They trail Rennes 3-1 from the first leg.

Arsenal are then next in action on April 1 at home to Newcastle in the Premier League.

Likewise, United have one more game before the international break.

They travel to Wolves next weekend in the FA Cup quarter-final before hosting Watford in league action on March 30.

 

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