How Unai Emery’s Improved Arsenal Have Won Back the Fans at the Emirates Stadium

?This time last year, had Arsenal lost a Europa League first leg away to Belarusian side BATE Borisov and then to Ligue 1’s eighth-placed Stade Rennais, the wolves would have been out, intent on drawing the last remaining blood from Arsene Wenger’s managerial reign. 

But fast forward 12 months, and the Gunners bounced back from the BATE defeat to register three consecutive victories (including a second-leg comeback) and an impressive draw away at bitter rivals Tottenham. Then, when the north London side slipped up again against Rennes, they produced one of their most resilient displays of the season to claim a huge Champions League hopes boosting, 2-0 win over high-flying Manchester United.

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The difference? The transformation Unai Emery has had on the ?Arsenal team, and by extension the Arsenal fans. 

For a long time in the final chapter of Wenger’s tenure, the Emirates Stadium had become a toxic environment, teetering on the precipice of a fully blown-out riot of epic proportions. You were either ‘Wenger In’ or ‘Wenger Out’, and such was the divisive opinion on the Gunners’ greatest ever manager, that fans took to fighting amongst themselves in the crowd. 

What Unai Emery has achieved in his limited time at the club has arguably been nothing short of remarkable. On commentary duty for the Arsenal game against United on Sunday, Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville quite rightly claimed that the game was played out to one of the best atmospheres of the season at the Emirates; the other being in the enthralling 4-2 triumph over Spurs. 

At home, the Gunners have always been a formidable opponent, and even in Wenger’s final years in charge they stepped up their game for the big occasions at the Emirates; a 3-0 win over Chelsea in September 2016, a 2-0 win over United the following May, or even the 2-0 victory over Spurs in his final season last year. 

What Emery has done, and what Arsenal fans have taken to, is the intensity of their big-game performances. The relentless pressing, putting bodies on the line to protect the goal, chasing down lost causes. 

£46.5m ?Alexandre Lacazette has been the absolute epitome of Emery’s rejuvenated Arsenal. Under Wenger last year, the Frenchman was predominantly a penalty box predator, leading the line in and around the opposition’s area. 

This season, the 27-year-old has bought into the hard work and off-the-ball demands of his new Spanish boss, hustling and harrying both centre-backs and defensive midfielders alike.

If indeed Lacazette has been the epitome of Emery’s Arsenal, then he provided a perfect snapshot of it mid-way through the second half against the Red Devils. 

Despite laying off the assist to Granit Xhaka’s long-range opener, and then winning the penalty for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s game-sealing goal, the former Lyon forward’s biggest roar of approval came when he chased back on a threatening United counter attack and stepped in to win the ball back.

The tackle in itself drew huge cheers from the Emirates faithful, and earned an animated response from his manager on the touchline. In seeing out the game against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, Arsenal have picked up twelve points from their ten games against the ‘big six’ in the ?Premier League – double the amount they had won last season.

All in all, the Gunners have amassed 60 points this season from their 30 games, 12 points more than what they had at the same stage of the season under Arsene Wenger. 

Even with a potential elimination from the Europa League on the horizon on Thursday, fans have seen enough promising performances to know that their club are on the right trajectory under Emery.

So when the end of the season comes, and the picture of whether they have Champions League football to play next year comes clear, Emery will have already arguably achieved his single biggest victory. Not against Tottenham back in December, or against Cherlsea in January, nor even against Manchester United in March.

But winning over the fans at the Emirates, who just seem to be getting on board the Emery train. 

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Alisson Becker Plays Down Comparisons With Manuel Neuer Ahead of Champions League Second Leg

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker insists that it is still too early to compare him with Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer as the Germany international has proved himself as one of the best shot-stoppers on the planet over the last decade.

The Brazilian moved to Anfield from Roma during the summer transfer window and has helped give the club an extra layer of defensive stability this season, something which has placed Liverpool at the centre of a Premier League title race.

But Alisson doesn’t believe that he should be compared with the likes of Neuer, adding that simply playing against the Bayern Munich star was a dream come true for the 26-year-old goalkeeper.

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I can’t compare myself with Neuer,” Alisson said ahead of Liverpool’s trip to the Allianz Arena, quoted by The Daily Mail. “He is one of the best in the last 10 years maybe he is the best one.

He has won everything and I’m just starting. He is a reference for me and is a great guy as well. I have played against him, playing against him is a dream come true. I don’t think I can compare myself with him.

“This is a consequence of what we do on the pitch. In the training ground every day I will work hard. I know I have to work hard, I am part of a big club who have big plans and have big goals.

“I need to take this responsibility and take care of it. For this, I need to give my best, 100% on the pitch. To be the best in the world would be a consequence of this.”

Although Alisson might want to avoid comparisons with the best goalkeepers in the world, they’re inevitable due to the impact that he’s had with Liverpool this season. Despite only playing four more games than Neuer, the Brazil international has actually registered six more clean sheets that the Bayern Munich captain this season.

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RB Salzburg vs Napoli: Carlo Ancelotti’s Best Available Partenopei Lineup

Napoli will travel to Austria to take on RB Salzburg at the Red Bull Arena on Thursday night in the second leg of their round of 16 Europa League matchup.

The Italian side head into the match with a 3-0 aggregate lead, but will have to stay alert as they have two key central defenders out of the match due to suspension. Napoli will still look to see the match out and avoid any injuries heading into the final stretch of the season. 

Here’s how Carlo Ancelotti could line up his side for the match against Salzburg.

3. Goalkeeper and Defenders

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Alex Meret (GK) – The 21-year-old goalkeeper has been between the sticks for Napoli in every Europa League match this season. Meret has kept two clean sheets in three matches in the competition this season and will be looking to bounce back after being shown a red card against Juventus in his previous match. 

Faouzi Ghoulam (LB) – Ghoulam has been in and out of Ancelotti’s side this season and did not feature in the first leg in Naples. With Kalidou Koulibaly and Nikola Maksimovic out due to suspension, the Algerian will slot into the left-back spot for the match as the squad shuffles the defence to cope with their absences. 

Sebastiano Luperto (CB) – Despite not being in the squad for the first leg matchup, Luperto will probably get the nod in the middle of the defence. The 22-year-old will have a tough task in this match, but will have the opportunity to show his worth in the competition. 

Vlad Chiriches (CB) – After having only returned from a terrible knee injury in February, Chiriches may get just his second start of the campaign in the match against Salzburg. The 29-year-old Romanian midfielder started and played the first half in Napoli’s 1-1 draw with Sassuolo on Sunday night, and will look to build up his form by the end of the season.

Elseid Hysaj (RB) – Hysaj will be the only regular starter in the back four for Napoli in this match. The Albanian defender will be tasked with leading the back line, as well as getting up the right flank to create chances for his team.

2. Midfielders

Senad Lulic,Piotr Zielinski

Simone Verdi (LM) – Verdi was deployed on the left wing in Napoli’s Serie A match against Sassuolo on Sunday night and he will be expected to start in the same position on Thursday. The Italian has struggled with injuries this season, but will look to add to his tally of just two assists in all competitions.

Piotr Zielinski (CM) – Zielinski has featured in every European match for Napoli this campaign and has started all three Europa League games. The Polish midfielder will be the heart of the midfield and will attempt to open up the Salzburg defence at every opportunity. He will also be keen on adding to his five goals in all competitions this season.

Amadou Diawara (CM) – With two regular centre-backs out for Napoli in this match, Diawara will have an important role as the defensive midfielder. He will be tasked with sitting in front of the back four and cutting out any Salzburg attacks that may come through the middle of the park.

Adam Ounas (RM) – With Napoli set to rest some key starters for the match, expect Ounas to get the nod on the right side of the midfield. Ounas will have a tough time breaking down a Salzburg defence that hasn’t allowed more than one goal in their previous 16 home European matches. 

1. Forwards

Arkadiusz Milik,Jerome Onguene

Arkadiusz Milik (FW) – Milik grabbed the opening goal in the first leg match-up in Naples last week. His hold-up play will be crucial if Napoli are to extend their aggregate lead and coast into the quarter-finals. The Polish forward will be looking to add to his 16 goals and three assists in all competitions this season. 

Dries Mertens (FW) – The Belgian 31-year-old will be the star man for Napoli in this match. Many stars will get a rest, but expect the lively Mertens to drive at the Salzburg defence as much as possible. His connection with Milik is always dangerous and he would love to add to his tally of 11 goals and nine assists this campaign. 

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Inter vs Eintracht Frankfurt: Luciano Spalletti’s Best Available Nerazzurri Lineup

Inter will be desperate to qualify for the Europa League quarter finals on Thursday as they host Eintracht Frankfurt in the second leg of their round of 16 clash.

The tie is finely poised after a 0-0 draw at the Commerzbank-Arena last week, a game in which Marcelo Brozovic had a first half penalty agonisingly saved to prevent Luciano Spalletti’s side taking a strong advantage back to San Siro.

The Italian manager has some unfortunate injuries to contend with ahead of the showdown, so will need to shuffle his pack accordingly to obtain a positive result.

Here’s how Inter could lineup to face Frankfurt on Thursday.

1. Goalkeeper & Defenders

Cedric Soares

Samir Handanovic (GK) – The Slovenian took over captaincy after Mauro Icardi was stripped of the role in mid-February and has been an ever present in Serie A this season.

Cedric Soares (RB) – Has made the right back slot his own following his loan move from Southampton. The Portuguese star possesses great energy up both aid in attack and perform his defensive responsibilities effectively.

Stefan de Vrij (CB) – The Dutchman is one of the finest defenders in Italy at the moment and has been the rock in a solid Inter backline in his debut season for the club.

 
Milan Skriniar (CB) – Has forged a fine partnership with de Vrij in the heart of the defence and will have his work cut out to keep Sebastien Haller and Luka Jovic at bay on Thursday.

Kwadwo Asamoah (LB) – Boasts great pace and crossing ability which will be crucial in the clash, and he will look to use that to exploit Eintracht Frankfurt’s use of a three-man defence.

2. Midfielders

Ivan Perisic,Marcelo Brozovic

Matias Vecino (CM) – Will come back into midfield in place of Roberto Gagliardini after missing the weekend’s victory over SPAL through suspension.

Marcelo Brozovic (CM) – Missed a crucial penalty in the first leg that would have given his side a strong advantage ahead of Thursday’s match, so will be eager to make amends against the German side.

Matteo Politano (RW) – His excellent pace will cause problems for Eintracht, and the winger will be full of confidence following his goal on the weekend.

Ivan Perisic (LW) – The Croatian should have recovered in time from fatigue for the game at San Siro to start after missing the SPAL match, as Perisic’s quality is unquestionable and will be key to unpicking the Eintracht defence.

Joao Mario (CAM) – Will slot into the attacking midfielder role in place of the injured Radja Nainggolan as the former West Ham man will be tasked with being the driving force in central midfield for Spalletti’s side.

3. Forwards

Lautaro Martinez

Lautaro Martinez (ST) – Hasn’t enjoyed the prolific goal scoring season he would have liked, with only five goals in 19 matches, but will be called upon the lead the line in place of Icardi. Martinez certainly has the pace and power to trouble defences, but a lack of end product this season has hindered the 21-year-old.

The Argentine has got very big boots to fill following Icardi’s very public fallout with the club. His goal record isn’t going to cut it if he wants to be considered a long term option for Inter, but the young striker does have plenty of potential, with pace and strength in abundance.

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Arsenal Backed by Robert Pires for Top-Four Premier League Finish & Europa League Glory

Former Arsenal attacking-midfielder Robert Pires believes the Gunners can finish in the top four in the Premier League and lift the Europa League trophy at the end of the season.

The north London side head into the second leg of their round of 16 Europa League tie on Thursday evening after a particularly poor performance at Roazhon Park just a week ago. The Gunners lost the match 3-1 and despite an early goal from Alex Iwobi, the squad simply didn’t look like themselves. Arsenal have the opportunity to come back in the fixture and will hope their recent win over Manchester United can spark a better performance this time around. 

Despite the deficit from the first leg, Pires believes Arsenal can turn the tie around. The Gunners also only sit one point behind Tottenham for third place in the Premier League after an impressive 2-0 win against Manchester United on Sunday. 

Pires spoke to Marca about Arsenal’s current situation saying: “I’m confident and positive, like the players. All of the players and Unai Emery know that they played bad against Rennes, but this is football.

“Maybe it’s because Rennes played well. The atmosphere was very good, the fans added pressure and unfortunately, Sokratis [Papastathopoulos] was sent off, but we have a second chance at home at the Emirates.

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“It’s strange, but maybe after the Manchester United win I have a good feeling. Anything is possible because when Arsenal play at home they can beat any team.”

The former France international also had praise for the work that Emery has done with the club in his first season and how he believes the Spanish manager has the experience to lead Arsenal to the Europa League title. 

“I think he [Emery] is doing well because they’re in the top four and I think they can qualify for next season’s Champions League. I think, and I hope, that he can win the Europa League, as he won it three times with Sevilla. So he has a lot of experience and knows there is good quality and a good squad.

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Arsenal will have to wait until after the upcoming international break to continue their climb in the Premier League table when they host Newcastle at the Emirates on 1 April.

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