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Former Premier League midfielder Diarra leaves PSG, announces retirement

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PARIS (AP) Veteran midfielder Lassana Diarra announced his retirement on Thursday, hours after he terminated his contract with French league leader Paris Saint-Germain by mutual agreement.

The 33-year-old Frenchman joined PSG in January 2018 and his contract was set to expire in June. Diarra’s career ends after 15 years and many high profile stops. He played for Arsenal, Chelsea and even Portsmouth in England, as well as spending three strong seasons with Real Madrid.

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Le moment est venu de « raccrocher les crampons » comme on dit . Pour le football , j’ai beaucoup donné . Grâce au football , j’ai énormément reçu . Le sport de haut niveau est une véritable école de courage , de persévérance et de respect . Il ne s’agit pas de faire l’unanimité mais d’honorer , en professionnel , avec volontarisme et loyauté la confiance que l’on vous accorde . Je ne dis pas que j’ai tout fait parfaitement mais je l’ai fait avec coeur , passion et bienveillance . Merci à tous ceux et toutes celles qui m’ont encouragé tout au long de ma carrière sportive . Une pensée pour les clubs , entraîneurs , éducateurs et coéquipiers qui ont fait partie de mon quotidien pendant toutes ces années . Je n’oublie pas ma première sélection avec la France en 2007 . Porter le maillot de la sélection nationale est le rêve de tous les footballeurs . Je tourne donc la page mais je n’oublie rien . Je vais continuer à œuvrer avec enthousiasme , détermination et sincérité dans mes nouveaux projets . Amitiés LASS

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After Real Madrid, Diarra became a journeyman, playing two seasons in Russia and part of a season in the United Arab Emirates. With PSG, Diarra made 10 league appearances last season under former coach Unai Emery, and has made only three in the league this season in Thomas Tuchel’s team.

Diarra made 34 appearances for France and was a regular starter during the qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup.

Sarri, Emery face 2nd leg challenges at home

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Sevilla clinched the first Round of 16 spot with a Europa League win over Lazio on Wednesday, and the other 15 berths will be settled by late Thursday.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings ]

That includes home second legs with varying degrees of difficult for a pair of London sides from the Premier League.

Maurizio Sarri looks like he’ll need to win the Europa League in order to get Chelsea back into the Champions League, and Chelsea needs to bounce back from another poor showing while also preparing for a hardware tilt; The FA Cup loss to Manchester United was three days before Thursday’s match with Malmo, which is three days before the League Cup final against Man City.

Chelsea holds a 2-1 lead after one leg. From ChelseaFC.com:

“We have to solve a big problem because we stayed in the other half for 75 minutes out of 90, and we were not able to score. They played only 15 or 16 balls into our box and they scored two goals. We have to solve this problem. It is probably a problem of aggression, determination in both boxes.”

Arsenal has an even bigger fish to fry than recent form, down 1-0 after one leg in Belarus.

Unai Emery is hoping the North London faithful can be the difference.

“It is also very important to play in our stadium with our supporters, and we need their support for this match and I hope there is a big atmosphere for us. Together, with their support, I know our players can play and give their all. The supporters want to watch our team play with the best performance possible.

“For this reason, I think we need good feedback between the supporters and us. … We need to listen to them supporting us and the players must give them the best performance in our stadium.”

The full schedule is below.

Thursday’s Europa League second legs
All times ET

12:55 p.m. ET
Arsenal v. BATE Borisov (BATE leads 1-0)
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Shakhtar Donetsk (2-2)
Villarreal v. Sporting Lisbon (Villareal leads 1-0)
Dinamo Zagreb v. Viktoria Plzen (Plzen leads 2-1)
Zenit Saint-Petersburg v. Fenerbahce (Fener leads 1-0)
Red Bull Salzburg v. Club Brugge (Brugge leads 2-1)
Valencia v. Celtic (Valencia leads 2-0)
Napoli v. FC Zurich (Napoli leads 3-1)

3 p.m. ET
Chelsea v. Malmo (Chelsea leads 2-1)
Benfica v. Galatasaray (Benfica leads 2-1)
Rennes v. Real Betis (3-3)
Inter Milan v. Rapid Vienna (Inter leads 1-0)
Dynamo Kiev v. Olympiakos (2-2)
Bayer Leverkusen v. Krasnodar (0-0)
Racing Genk v. Prague (0-0)

Emery on Mesut Ozil: ‘The key is in his hands’

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Mesut Ozil’s continued absence at Arsenal has baffled many and it is quite clear Unai Emery doesn’t see the German playmaker fitting into his plans.

But the Gunners boss has challenged Ozil to grab the bull by the horns, in as many words, and wants the 30-year-old (the highest-paid player in Arsenal’s history) to get back to full fitness as soon as possible.

Ahead of Arsenal’s UEFA Europa League round of 32 second leg against BATE Borisov on Thursday (Arsenal trail 1-0 from the first leg in Belarus), Emery gave an update on Ozil’s progress.

“The key is in his hands and he is working very well this week, ” Emery said. “He needs to be consistent in training and for matches, without injury or being sick. Without that we can see the best Mesut with us.”

Ozil last played for Arsenal against Cardiff City on Jan. 29 and before that he went a month without playing from late December until late January. He’s been out with a combination of small injuries and illnesses, while Emery has also chosen not to select him at all in some matchday squads.

Do Arsenal miss him? The stats suggest the Gunners are a better team without Ozil and you can argue that they are better balanced without him. This season they’ve only won 56 percent of the 18 games Ozil has played in compared to 65 percent of 20 games without him.

Emery’s strong stance on Ozil not fitting into his philosophy seems to have focused the rest of the squad, but now seems like a good time to try and find a spot for the mercurial talent in the lineup.

The likes of Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan have been used in wide attacking roles by Emery in recent weeks but with Ozil now having a full week of training under his belt, surely he will be used against BATE, Southampton, Bournemouth and Tottenham in Arsenal’s next four games.

Having a fit and focused Ozil back in the team will be like having a new signing for Arsenal, but it is still unclear exactly where he will slot in. In Emery’s 3-4-3 formation, his role as a central playmaker has disappeared and the best chance he has of playing a pivotal role this season is if Emery changes to a 3-4-2-1 formation with Lacazette and Ozil underneath Aubameyang in attack.

Arsenal boss Emery defends team selection after BATE Borisov loss

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Arsenal manager Unai Emery has come out to defend his team selection after losing to BATE Borisov 1-0 in Europa League play on Thursday in Belarus.

Emery dropped playmaker Mesut Ozil in his ongoing feud with the German international, saying before the match that Ozil was a healthy scratch. After the loss, Emery was quick to defend his team selection, going so far as to say his team should have won despite the final scoreline.

“Last week we won and we played with the same players,” Emery said after the game. “For me today there was no difference to the performance. We deserved to win but didn’t get the result.”

“They were very organized defensively and they found the moment in the game. It’s not for one player or another. We can win with every player and lose with the same players.”

Arsenal held 77% possession and out-shot BATE 16-6, but each side picked out just three on target. Emery preached patience on multiple levels, saying his players need to control their emotions, and the fans need to understand that there is still a second leg to go.

“It’s the first match,” said Emery of the situation, with the second leg coming from the Emirates next Thursday. “We are going to play another 90 minutes next week and I’m sure it’s going to be different.

“Our big opportunity is next week at home. Today is not the result we wanted. We deserved more but they worked for this. Next week is going to be different with our supporters.”

Emery continued to talk about his players keeping their cool, and said he spoke with Alexandre Lacazette, who was sent off for a late elbow. “I didn’t see the action [Lacazette’s foul] but we need to control the frustration,” Emery said. “It’s bad news, this red card. Next week we won’t play with [Lacazette]. But it gives chances for another player.”

Ozil could be in contention to come back into the team in Lacazette’s absence, or Emery could turn to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as a lone striker up front with a number of changes behind him, potentially including a return for Aaron Ramsey who missed the first leg with a knee problem.

Europa League: Chelsea starts toughest stretch of season

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Maurizio Sarri’s seat at Chelsea has never been hotter, and according to multiple reports this week, his fate at Stamford Bridge rests on how Chelsea does in the UEFA Europa League.

After two days of the UEFA Champions League taking center stage, the Europa League returns with the round of 32, as Chelsea faces Malmo and Arsenal takes on BATE. Both Chelsea and Arsenal start on the road, with the return leg in one week’s time back at home in London.

[ MORE: Europa League scores ]

Chelsea is coming off a stunning 6-0 defeat to Manchester City. In Sarri’s pre-match press conference on Wednesday, he revealed there was a players-only meeting for hours as the players worked to solve the issues in the locker room that has led Chelsea to drop out of the top four in the Premier League. In addition, Sarri stated, unsurprisingly, that it was not easy to get on the field after such a thrashing last weekend.

‘It’s not easy to play tomorrow after a 6-0 but we have to play and we have to play well if we want to win,” Sarri said. “We know that it will be not very easy because we have to play against a very good team, they are compact, solid and usually have a very good defensive phase. We want to win and want to react immediately.”

Meanwhile Arsenal’s trip to Belarus was underscored by the fact that Unai Emery didn’t bring either Aaron Ramsey or Mesut Ozil, as the German international continues to fail to get into the gameday squad. Petr Cech is expected to start over Bernd Leno while Pierre-Emerick Aubemeyang and Granit Xhaka are back in the side after missing the club’s last match.

Interestingly, Arsenal will face over two legs one of their best midfield signings in the past 20 years, Alexander Hleb is 37-years old.