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PL Preview: Manchester Derby, Wolves-Arsenal

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All Premier League clubs will have played 35 matches this season following the conclusion of two beautiful Wednesday outings in England.

[ MORE: Watford draws Saints ]


Manchester United v. Manchester City — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN [ STREAM ]

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer poked the bear, and got a response.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s Manchester Derby at Old Trafford, Solskjaer claimed Man City “will snap at your ankles and heels and kick you” upon giving up the ball to opponents ready to counterattack.

City boss Pep Guardiola was not pleased with the comments. From The Manchester Evening News:

“I don’t like it. I don’t like it. No. My team is not built to think and create for that, not at all,” he said, later adding, “Maybe tomorrow in the press conference after the game you can ask him again about that.”

Solskjaer is hoping he won’t spend a second successive post-match ruminating over a grievous loss, as he did following a 4-0 beatdown from Everton on Sunday.

And if responding to its UEFA Champions League exit with a Saturday win over Tottenham Hotspur was satisfying for Guardiola, imagine how revved up he’ll be to reclaim hold on the Premier League crown while completing a season sweep of its local rivals for the first time since 2013-14.

City beat United 3-1 at the Etihad Stadium earlier this season, and is looking to avoid its first league loss at Old Trafford in four tries.

Wolves v. Arsenal — 2:45 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold [ STREAM ]

Unai Emery‘s Arsenal heads to the Molineux Stadium hoping its away support is better than the perceived harsh treatment handed to his Gunners in a 3-2 home loss to Crystal Palace on Sunday.

“I say to our supporters, ‘Help our players.’ Because I want every player to have big confidence,” Emery said. “I know there are reactions, and the first reaction is strong. First, when we win they are telling us we are the best, we have a record, we have a possibility to be third in the table – that is good.”

Arsenal would move into the Top Four with a win, but Nuno Espirito Santo‘s Wolves are fighting for a place in Europe themselves. That’s true on two fronts, though it must be said they could have sewn up seventh place with better play in recent weeks.

Wolves have claimed just five of their last 15 available points, including a draw with Brighton and losses to Burnley and Southampton. Even one more win would have them seventh heading into Tuesday.

“There’s no reference to the table, the reference is to grow, to improve game by game,” said Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo. “Every game is a chance to improve. We have a fantastic opportunity to become a better team, trying new things, but at the same time trying to make players grow on the idea that we want regarding the future. This is what we focus on until the end, there’s no thinking about the summer or next season, it’s a game by game process.”

Emery: Torreira taken off at halftime because ‘atmosphere was against him’

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Unai Emery has defended his decision to remove Lucas Torreira at halftime, noting both the game’s environment and a possible injury worry.

“I decided to do the change of Lucas Torreira because after the red card, the atmosphere is against him and also the doctor said to me in the first half that he has a little pain for Thursday and I decided okay, it’s the moment [to take him off],” Emery said following Arsenal’s 1-0 win over Watford.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Torreira of course was the subject to Troy Deeney‘s elbow that earned Deeney a red card. The holding midfielder had a couple of fouls of his own, with the Watford supporters baying to the referee “off, off, off” asking for a red card. Emery may have felt that as the game went on, Torreira could go hard into a challenge and come out with a red card, and Arsenal needs Torreira healthy and active for future Premier League matches.

On the field, it didn’t seem that Torreira had an injury, but ahead of Arsenal’s crucial return leg against Napoli on Thursday, Emery appears to have decided it was better not to risk Torreira in the second half and instead play with Mesut Ozil in a more attacking formation. That way, Torreira should be good to go at Napoli. Ultimately, the move paid off, with Arsenal holding on to the 1-0 victory.

Since joining in July, Torreira has been a revelation, emerging as the holding midfielder that Arsenal has been missing for a decade or more. When healthy and in form, Torreira eats up opposition attacks, cutting down space all over the field. He’s even scored a goal or two, as seen in one of the North London derbies earlier this year.

Ozil finally earning Emery’s trust at Arsenal

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There has been one constant in a month of fluctuating fortunes for Arsenal, and few could have seen it coming.

[ MORE: Lloris, Son give Spurs lead over Man City (video) ]

Mesut Ozil, all of a sudden, is a mainstay in the team and is set to start for the sixth straight game when Arsenal plays Napoli in the first leg of the Europa League quarterfinals on Thursday.

No other attacking player has taken the field for Arsenal as much in that period. It is Ozil’s longest unbroken run in the team under Unai Emery, the Arsenal manager whose preference for a high-energy approach seemed to conflict with the German playmaker’s natural style.

Only a few months ago, there seemed no way back for Ozil, who endured several spells out of the team with Emery publicly acknowledging that, for certain games, he simply needed players who worked harder.

Ozil can be a divisive player, with his supporters pointing to his vision and ability to conjure chances out of nothing while his critics question his commitment, attitude and work rate.

[ MORE: Harry Kane could miss rest of season, says Pochettino ]

But just as the season has reached its defining stage, Emery is starting to lean heavily on the club’s top money-earner.

“He is playing like a team player,” Emery said. “He’s working very well, playing very well. He’s helping us. I’m very happy with him.”

Ozil certainly seems to be putting in more effort in matches. So much so that Emery trusted Ozil to start in an away Premier League last weekend for the first time since Dec. 26.

It didn’t go too well – Arsenal lost 1-0 at Everton on Sunday and Ozil was substituted in the 74th minute after a largely anonymous display – but it was still another signal of the growing harmony between the club’s manager and its most high-profile player.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Spurs’ victory over Man City ]

Arsenal heads into the Europa League’s last eight potentially needing to win the competition to secure a return to the Champions League next season. Finishing in the top four of the Premier League would also guarantee that and Arsenal is currently in fifth place, locked in a tight battle with Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United to claim the two qualifying spots behind Liverpool and Manchester City.

Five points separate Chelsea in third place and United in sixth, with Chelsea having played a game more than its three rivals.

Ozil’s five-match run in the team started in the 3-1 Europa League loss to Rennes in the first leg of the last 16. But Arsenal’s 3-0 victory in the second leg kept alive Emery’s bid to win the competition for the fourth time, after doing so with Sevilla in three straight years from 2014.

Napoli, which is second in the Italian league, won the now-defunct UEFA Cup – the precursor to the Europa League – in 1989. It is the club’s only major European honor.

Premier League preview: Everton v. Arsenal

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  • Arsenal is the last PL team without a road clean sheet
  • Alexandre Lacazette has 27 goals, but just 7 on the road
  • Everton has lost four straight PL matches against Arsenal

Unbeaten over the last six matches, Arsenal looks to push up the table in a crowded race for the Champions League positions as they visit Everton, live Sunday on NBCSN at 9:05 a.m. ET or live online at NBCSports.com.

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The Gunners can jump their North London rivals Tottenham in the table with a win, gaining the advantage over the tight Champions League battle in the process. Currently, four teams sit within three points of each other, battling for positions three and four in the Premier League table. At the moment, Arsenal rests in fourth, a point back of Tottenham and level with Chelsea on points.

Arsenal boss Unai Emery will be having selection headaches, with the Gunners’ squad depleted by injuries. Granit Xhaka and Laurent Koscielny are both questionable after missing the win over Newcastle United last time out, while Aaron Ramsey came out of that match with groin trouble but should be ready to go. Lucas Torreira is suspended for the third and final time for his red card against Tottenham, and Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding, and Danny Welbeck are all out long-term.

Everton, meanwhile, is pushing for a top-half finish and sits just on the precipice at the moment, looking for its third straight victory. The Toffees suffered through much of the winter, but wins over Chelsea and West Ham have Everton on the club’s first league winning streak since early October. They are without Yerry Mina through injury, but otherwise Marco Silva has a full-strength squad.

What they’re saying

Everton boss Marco Silva on playing Arsenal: “On Sunday, we are playing another top team. I know how the atmosphere will be in our stadium again and how the fans can be a key for us. Together, our fans and players, can help us to get a good result. We will play with the same mentality we had in second half against Chelsea and in the last match against West Ham.”

Arsenal manager Unai Emery on strikers Lacazette and Aubameyang: “We need a lot of good passes, good crosses, to give them the best option to score in the box. We can be proud that both are with us. Sometimes you need to play both, with two strikers, and sometimes you can play with one player wide, and sometimes you can play with another on the bench.”

Prediction

Arsenal has had Everton’s number of late, but that won’t matter as two in-form teams meet at Goodison Park. Everton just took down Chelsea, and they should be equipped well to keep that up. Arsenal hasn’t kept a single away clean sheet this season, and the two teams will draw 2-2 to keep the Gunners in the thick of the Champions League race, unable to fully pull away.

Emery raves about Ozil, Ramsey as Arsenal goes 3rd

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Unai Emery has answered a lot of off-the-field questions about Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey this year, so we imagine he loved talking about the two for their on-field exploits.

Ozil has struggled to stay in Emery’s side despite his big paycheck, and Ramsey would not sign a new deal with Arsenal and is headed to Juventus on a mega watt deal of his own.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 2-0 Newcastle ]

Asked about two star players from Arsenal’s 2-0 defeat of Newcastle on Monday, a win which pushed the Gunners ahead of rivals Tottenham Hotspur, Emery was happy to gush about both. From the BBC:

“We were improving little by little and our first goal helped us a lot. Mesut Ozil has quality, when he can find the best performance for the team, he is playing like we want with the system and how tactically we want. He is giving us his quality.

“I think Aaron Ramsey is happy, he is helping us and is playing with a very good performance and scoring. Each energy from the players is very important for us and he is doing that. We are at the most important moment of the season.”

So what’s next? Emery is careful not to aim too high considering the congested schedule for all Top Four challengers, and the immense skill on display at each club.

“We are making progess in the table but we know it is difficult, Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester United are going to win a lot of games.”