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Robbie Earle on Man United’s priorities for rest of this season

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Following Manchester United’s 1-0 victory over Celta Vigo in the Europa League, Robbie Earle spoke with ProSoccerTalk about United’s priorities for the remainder of the season and their upcoming match against Arsenal.

Q: Does Jose Mourinho go all-out for the Europa League now that Man United are that much closer to the final?

Robbie Earle: Yeah, everybody was looking at the lineups for the Europa League and which way Jose would go. I think having gotten to the semifinal and now being 1-0 up from the away leg, they are in poll position to finish the job off at Old Trafford next week and then look forward to the final. It’s possibly going to be against Ajax to give them a Champions League spot.

In many respects if you look at the gamble in terms of opponents still to play in the Premier League and the trickiness of that and then maybe two games max in the Europa League, you can understand why the gamble will probably be more skewed toward the Europa League.

Q: Is that the right move from Mourinho?

RE: Yeah, I think it’s a gamble, but a calculated one. Due to injuries and suspended players he hasn’t had available I think he was always looking to head that way. He’s a great one-off tactician manager. We’ve seen it in days like the Manchester derby, recently against Chelsea when he can plot his team to make sure they get a result. Cup football very much suits him and I just think he likes having his own destiny in his own hands, which he will feel more in the Europa League than he will in the Premier League.

That leads us into the weekend when they have a huge game against Arsenal and a manager Mourinho hasn’t particularly liked over the years so he isn’t going to want to make it easy for Arsenal and give them the points. I still think Manchester United will want to go win that game. They can put a little more pressure on Arsenal and pretty much end their top four hopes.

Q: Mourinho has said that he will rest players against Arsenal if he needs to. Do you think he will?

RE: I think it’s a little much to say rest, he may rotate. I think we have to be careful with Manchester United. We’re not talking about Bournemouth or Southampton or Burnley, you know teams that might struggle for depth. I mean we’re still talking about Manchester United and I know they have injuries but they spent 200-odd million dollars at the start of the season on players. So yes, you have your injuries and suspensions and things, but I don’t feel we should be going down the road too much of poor old Manchester United because Manchester United in the past have been successful winning the treble at one time when you’ve got to play cup finals, league games, European games and that’s what successful teams do. They keep on grinding out results and getting results to get to finals.

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I think we will see some rotations of players, but this is Manchester United. [Paul] Pogba was good today. [Marouane] Fellaini can’t play in the Premier League, but can play in Europa which is a bonus so some things will take care of themselves. [Anthony] Martial could come back in. Obviously [Marcus] Rashford scoring today, he’s 19-years-old, he’d play every day if he could. You’ve got [Juan] Mata coming back and Michael Carrick may have a role to play so there’s still plenty enough there for United to get a result at Arsenal and then turn their attention to next Thursday.

Q: Is it an admission of failure from Man United this season that Mourinho has openly said they are prioritizing the Europa League and thus putting the Premier League on the back-burner?

RE: If we look back to the start of the season Mourinho talked about, we’re Manchester United, we have to go for titles, so that was the initial aim. I think during the course of the season, despite them being on this unbeaten run in the Premier League, there have been too many draws, 14, many of those at home. It’s very unlike Manchester United, where they generally put teams to the sword and get their result.

So I think it’s almost been a sort of realism of the season that’s gone on. That this team, this squad is not yet good enough to challenge for the top spot. It’s all out to make the top four and obviously the Europa League has been the best opportunity as we come toward the end of the season. Mourinho’s very smart. He’s won the League Cup, if he wins the Europa League or grabs a top four spot then that would go down as a successful team, although not maybe the success United have had in the past.

The Europa League is everything because of the Champions League spot now. In fairness to him, he’s taken the competition pretty seriously from day one. Whereas some teams I always think work hard to get into Europe and then work just as hard to get out of it. I don’t think Mourinho is that guy. I think he likes to win silverware regardless. I think he recognizes the value of the Champions League spot and he probably deep down recognized after a certain point this season this team may not be good enough to be top four so he gave himself and the club a chance, and you have to say that’s good management.

Q: What is the result of the Arsenal v. Man United match?

RE: That’s a good one. It’s so difficult to call because Arsenal are in this position where they have this whole sort of negativity around the football club, that’s part what’s happening on the pitch, part what’s happening with the manager.

Manchester United are in a reasonably relaxed frame of mind. There is certainly less pressure on them and Mourinho’s already almost got his excuse if they lose, that you know they are focusing on Thursday and that’s the big thing.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirms intent to sit players ] 

I think because of the circumstances, the pressure of losing the North London derby last week, which means Spurs are going to finish above an Arsene Wenger team for the first time, because it’s so important to try and grab that top four spot, if I have to go one way I’m going to slightly tip it Arsenal’s way. Their need is greater and Manchester United have a ready-made excuse. I don’t feel Arsenal are necessarily in great form, but because of their need to get the points and because of United’s situation I tip them the slight favorites.

Can Arsene Wenger end his 13-match winless streak against Jose Mourinho?

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The FA Community Shield takes place tomorrow, pinning the previous season’s Premier League winners against the defending FA Cup champions.

This season features Chelsea vs. Arsenal, as the Gunners aim to win their second straight Community Shield after defeating Manchester City in last year’s match.

[ RELATED: FA Community Shield preview ]

While many have picked Arsenal to be the team to dethrone Chelsea for the Premier League title this season, history says they may have difficulty beating the Blues tomorrow.

Why? Because Arsene Wenger has never beaten Jose Mourinho in their previous 13 meetings.

Last season Chelsea defeated Arsenal 2-0 and drew 0-0, with the two rival managers clashing on the touchline during the Gunners’ loss.

When Mourinho was asked if he had ever had a lengthy winless streak against another manager, his reply was simple. “No. I think I lost twice against Tony [Pulis]. I lost against Crystal Palace and against West Brom.”

A classic Jose response, almost a jab at Wenger, as there was more than a year between those two losses and Tony Pulis switched clubs in the process.

[ RELATED: Mourinho believes Arsenal could win the Premier League ]

The Community Shield may have no significant meaning, with Mourinho himself saying it has no relation to the rest of the season, but you can guarantee both managers will look at tomorrow’s match as having a little extra something to it, even if they won’t admit it.

Wenger said the match is not just a friendly, as he wants his side to continue their good form that has seen the Gunners score 14 goals in four preseason matches.

Tomorrow will be a good look at both sides’ first-team lineups, as the starters tomorrow will likely be the starters when the Premier League kicks off next week. A win for Arsenal would give the Gunners added confidence that they have what it takes to win the league, while a win for Chelsea would be another stroke for Mourinho’s always entertaining ego.

Arsene Wenger worried over Gabriel Paulista’s understanding of English

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Arsene Wenger has expressed concern for a new arrival to the Gunners, Gabriel Paulista, based on the center back’s knowledge of the English language.

Signed from Spanish outfit Villarreal for a $16.94 million (£11 million) fee during last month’s transfer window, Paulista is set to make his debut for the Gunners in their FA Cup match against Middlesbrough.

[RELATED: FA Cup preview–Possible upsets]

Wenger stated that, specifically for a player at the back, communication is essential for controlling a game. He also mentioned that the Brazilian will avoid viewing the news, which could serve as a negative source of scruinty.

From BBC Sport:

“When you don’t speak English and you don’t understand ‘Come out, come back, right, left’, it is a problem for a defender,” Wenger said.

“You need to know the key words. Offside. Referee. Foul.”

“The players are always under tremendous pressure because everything they do is analysed by the pundits and the press…The modern player has to live with that – resistance to stress has to be stronger than it was 10 years ago.

“He (Gabriel) will not read the press. He will just focus on his game – that is one of the advantages.”

Whether or not the language barrier will legitimately affect the play of the Gunners’ newcomer remains to be seen. But on the grounds that Paulista presents a big risk, a shrewd manager like Wenger should know how to approach the situation on Saturday.

Arsenal’s central defense, fronted by Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, definitely necessitated a boost from the transfer market, and in the wake of injury, they, along with the rest of the squad, can only hope Paulista will contribute right off the bat.

WATCH: Wenger warns Wojciech Szczesny about smoking cigarettes

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Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger knows the dangers of smoking cigarettes, and he voiced it to the media ahead of his squad’s Sunday league matchup against Stoke City.

The question came after goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was caught smoking cigarettes in the showers and fined £20,000 by the club.

[RELATED: Szczesny caught smoking and fined]

“Not harder than control[ling] you not to smoke or not to smoke,” Wenger said to a reporter, who asked how the Frenchman deals with footballers making such personal decisions.

“You can do what you want to at home, and you have the freedom…Look, my issue is the players here are judged on their performances. Ideally, to have a high level of performance, it’s best to behave as well as possible.”

As for his upcoming fixture, Wenger noted that Arsenal will have a bundle of important players returning from absences.

“Aaron Ramsey’s back in training, [Mesut] Ozil is back in training, Mathieu Flamini is back, so we got three players back,” he said. “[Danny] Welbeck is still not available for training…[Olivier] Giroud is back from suspension, so we have a bigger squad than last week.”

Arsene Wenger understands Alex Song’s quality as Gunners look forward to West Ham

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Arsenal hasn’t had the ideal first half of their 2014-15 campaign, but regardless, they find themselves only two points back from Southampton in the fourth and final Champions League qualification spot.

Tomorrow, facing fifth-place West Ham, Arsene Wenger could see his squad grab three points against the Hammers that would ultimately push them higher up the table.

Unbeaten in five of their last six league contests, Arsenal have been riding a much-needed streak since  consecutive losses at the hands of Swansea City and Manchester United.

West Ham is situated in a superb position, as Sam Allardyce has manned the sideline in what has been a excellent run since August.

While certain players have helped raise praise “Big Sam” across the league, one man, Alex Song, has served a very important purpose in spurring excellent form.

Wenger had the services of Song when the Cameroonian was a part of Arsenal for the majority of his career, and the Frenchman knows the dynamic qualities of the midfielder, despite his lack of consistent playing time with specific teams.

“I brought him here at the age of 17 and kept him despite all the opinions against him.” Wenger said of Song, per ESPN FC. “He developed into a very good player, so you don’t need to convince me he is a good player.

“I think he was a very good player when he was here and he didn’t play a lot when he was in Spain — you see players like Santi Cazorla who always looks stronger [when they play regularly].”

If there’s been an massive emphasis on the importance of gaining points in this upcoming fixture, Wenger sees otherwise, restricting his attention to outplaying his opponent.

“I don’t give importance to the table at the moment,” he said. “There are 20 games to go. It is very tight and it is down to consistency now.”