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Arsenal front office gives Unai Emery vote of confidence

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The Arsenal front office has publicly issued support for manager Unai Emery despite the negative run of results that has left fans wondering what is next for the Gunners.

Speaking at a pre-planned meeting with over 200 Arsenal staff members in attendence, head of football Raul Sanllehi and the managing director Vinai Venkatesham were the ones to deliver Emery’s vote of confidence.

“We are as disappointed as everyone else with both our results and performances at this stage of the season,” they said in the meeting as quoted by The Guardian and Goal.com. “We share the frustration with our fans, Unai, players and all our staff as they are not at the level we want or expect. Things need to improve to meet our objectives for the season, and we firmly believe Unai is the right man for the job, together with the backroom team we have in place.”

“We are all working intensively behind the scenes to turn things around and are confident we will. We never take our fantastic support for granted. We hope we can all stick together and get behind the team in this challenging period, as together we are stronger.”

Calls for Emery’s job have grown louder in recent weeks as the club flounders in both Premier League and Europa League competition. The Gunners have failed to win its last four league matches in a row with losses to Sheffield United and Leicester City sandwiching a pair of draws with Crystal Palace and Wolves. They also looked lackluster in a 1-1 draw against Vitoria Guimaraes in European play.

Most alarmingly, Arsenal continues to throw away winning positions, coughing up leads in both recent Premier League draws as well as the Vitoria Guimaraes match. They also threw away a two-goal lead to Watford earlier this season, and nearly lost at home to newly-promoted Aston Villa, requiring a last-gasp winner from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

The Granit Xhaka affair has also blighted Emery’s time, with the Swiss midfielder looking to earn his place back in the squad after being stripped of the captain’s armband for negative gestures towards the booing Arsenal crowd.

Rankings the comeback potential of Champions League sides

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Maybe Group H of the UEFA Champions League was very soft.

Chelsea and Valencia are in massive holes after 90 minutes of the Round of 16, and third-place Ajax is a 2-0 hole in its Europa League tie.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The other six teams’ disadvantages after one leg range from tricky to barely existent.

Let’s rate which teams have the best chances to climb back and earn a spot in the quarterfinals.

8. Chelsea (down 3-0 to Bayern Munich after home leg)

Robert Lewandowski’s injury hurts the Bavarians, but not three goals worth of hurt. And Serge Gnabry has been the one sounding death knells for London clubs.

7. Valencia (down 4-1 to Atalanta after away leg)

The away goal combined with the Serie A side’s relative inexperience in the competition gives Valencia a bit more hope than Chelsea.

6. Napoli (level at 1 with Barcelona after home leg)

On the plus side, Gennaro Gattuso’s men are level. That said, they allowed an away goal to Barca and have to go to the Camp Nou against a side yearning to make better UCL memories.

5. Real Madrid (down 2-1 to Man City after home leg)

Who knows what Pep Guardiola will launch at the Etihad Stadium, but giving him two away goals and a lead opens up his playbook? As for Zinedine Zidane, it was all so one dimensional at the Bernabeu. What’s he have cooking?

4. Tottenham Hotspur (down 1-0 to RB Leipzig after home leg)

Spurs have better UEL experience than their second leg hosts, though the striker problems looms over Jose Mourinho’s plans.

3. Liverpool (down 1-0 to Atletico Madrid after away leg)

It’s easy to imagine the Reds’ rebounding, and even Atleti will doubt its potential to keep Liverpool off the scoreboard at Anfield.

2. Paris Saint-Germain (down 2-1 to Borussia Dortmund after away leg)

Dortmund’s allowed plenty of goals this season, and PSG’s attack is stacked.

1. Juventus (down 1-0 to Lyon after away leg)

It’s difficult to imagine Juve playing as poor as they did Wednesday when they head back to Turin. The Old Lady knew something was wrong in warm-ups. They’ll address it, but can they keep Lyon off the board?

 

Europa League preview: Arsenal, Wolves, Man Utd look to advance

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Fifteen places remain up for grabs in the Europa League’s Round of 16 after Steven Gerrard’s Rangers handled Braga in Wednesday’s lone second leg.

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Notable names Porto, Benfica, and Ajax enter their second legs with hills to climb, while the three Premier League teams have varying degrees of advantage.

Manchester United v. Club Brugge

United enters the second leg at Old Trafford with an away goal advantage after the 1-1 draw in Belgium.

Luke Shaw says the Red Devils are driven by a desire to play for silverware, and the UEL joins the FA Cup as their lone opportunities to claim trophies this year.

“It is a massive ambition for me,” said Shaw, via The Manchester Evening News. “I was there for the Europa League final, and the feeling, even though I wasn’t on the pitch, was a feeling I have not felt and I wanted more of. I wasn’t involved and that is what is pushing me on even more to get into this final, and others. We should be in finals and we should be in all competitions until the end. We are very confident at the moment.”

Arsenal v. Olympiacos

The Gunners claimed a 1-0 result in Greece, and know a draw will be enough to bring Mikel Arteta‘s men to the Round of 16.

The manager was asked what’s different about his Gunners, now back in contention to qualify for Europe via the Premier League table.

“I think the team is progressing well, the club is in a better place,” Arteta said, via Football.London. “We are getting much more unity on the sections of the club and as well a great energy back from the fans every time we play at the Emirates and away from the Emirates. There are a lot of positive things but there are still things to improve individually, collectively and as a club and we are in that process at the moment.”

Espanyol v. Wolves

Wolves rang up a four-goal advantage at the Molineux, and that may give Nuno Espirito Santo a chance to use his depth for a rare time this season.

The boss has counted on players like Conor Coady, Rui Patricio, and Raul Jimenez in all tournaments, and he admits that it’s worn on the squad.

“I wouldn’t say we’ve not suffered,” said Espirito Santo via Wolves’ site. “It’s been tough with a tight schedule, very demanding on the players and I think the credit is on them – the way they compete, the way they prepare themselves to compete, but it’s tough, very tough. … The credit is for the players, it’s for the staff, but the players buying, believing and working very hard, is what makes things go well.”

Look out for Diogo Jota if he plays; The Wolves star has five goals in his past two matches.

Thursday’s second legs

12:55 p.m. ET kickoffs
Istanbul Basaksehir (1-3) v. Sporting Lisbon
Gent (0-1) v. Roma
Malmo (1-2) v. Wolfsburg
LASK (1-1) v. AZ Alkmaar
Porto (1-2) v. Bayer Leverkusen
Espanyol (0-4) v. Wolves
Basel (3-0) v. APOEL Nicosia

3 p.m. ET
Manchester United (1-1) v. Club Brugge
Celtic (1-1) v. Copenhagen
Benfica (1-2) v. Shakhtar Donetsk
Red Bull Salzburg (1-4) v. Eintracht Frankfurt
Inter Milan (2-0) v. Ludogorets Razgrad
Ajax (0-2) v. Getafe
Sevilla (1-1) v. CFR Cluj
Arsenal (1-0) v. Olympiacos

Juventus ‘could tell something wasn’t switched on’ in Lyon

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Juventus’ obsession with winning another European Cup has the club on edge after a 1-0 first leg loss to Lyon on Wednesday in the first leg of the Round of 16.

Stalwart defender Leonardo Bonucci, defender Danilo, and manager Maurizio Sarri were less than pleased with the performance.

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Bonucci was spotted yelling at substitute midfielder Blaise Matuidi in warm-ups, and that was a prelude to a poor performance from most of the team.

“I didn’t tell Matuidi off, I told him the team includes those who are on the bench and we must all be ready to contribute,” Bonucci said, via Football-Italia. “I could tell something wasn’t switched on with the XI starters either. We’ve got to sort this out, as these are the things that make the difference.”

Sarri, the system man, is quite upset with his players after what he said was a lightning-fast training session on Tuesday.

“I don’t know why, I cannot get the players to understand the importance of moving the ball quickly,” said the flummoxed ex-Chelsea man. “This is fundamental, we’ll keep working on it and sooner or later this concept will get into their heads.”

Sarri was happier with the ball movement in the second half, and will expect Juve to do the same in its home second leg.

Danilo had a decent day in the loss. He didn’t sugar coat the performance.

“We cannot just gift the first half to the opposition in such an important tournament. We are aware that we did that and need to work harder,” Danilo said.

Guardiola ‘so proud’ of Man City comeback; KDB, Jesus react to tactics

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Pep Guardiola was grinning widely after his tactical moves set up Manchester City in a 2-1 comeback win over Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.

“I’m so proud,” Guardiola said. “This is the first step. It’s not over. We can enjoy the moment.”

Why wouldn’t he be smiling? Guardiola became the first manager to win Champions League games at the Bernabeu with two different teams, and did it during one of the most controversial periods in club history.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

What was different? Well, Guardiola played Kevin De Bruyne as a sort of second striker and took center forward Gabriel Jesus and deployed him as a left-sided midfielder.

“In the four years we are here with Pep, sometimes there are some surprises,” De Bruyne said. “Even the players don’t really know before the game starts what we need to do. Some were good. We had some lesser moments but in a quality game like this you’re gonna struggle but we fought really well together.”

Jesus had it even weirder, playing as a sort of left midfielder or even wingback with plenty of responsibility going back and forward.

The Brazilian said he has some experience playing wide, but — again — you have to be ready for the full Pep Guardiola experience.

“I can remember my time in the Palmeiras academy and I play like a winger and then become a striker,” he said. “But I go to the pitch to help my team-mates. It doesn’t matter if I have to run back or forwards. I have to help my team-mates. We are learning a lot. We have to play different positions sometimes.”

Guardiola knows the second leg is going to be tough, as Real will put everything into attack.

“When we were better, we conceded a goal,” Guardiola said, via the BBC. “When they were better, we scored a goal. That’s football. I remember the quarterfinal a few seasons ago at Anfield when we played incredibly well and they scored all their shots on target.”

Real will be without center back Sergio Ramos, who was sent off late, while Man City could be missing its best center back. Aymeric Laporte subbed off in the first half.