Contrasting fortunes for Manchester United, Arsenal make for crucial top four Premier League clash

Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku and Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette will play a big role in the crucial clash at the Emirates Stadium. (AFP)
Updated 09 March 2019
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Contrasting fortunes for Manchester United, Arsenal make for crucial top four Premier League clash

  • Solskjaer is positive Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford can strike up a fruitful partnership
  • Momentum is on United’s side, but they face a far tougher run-in than the Gunners

LONDON: After the miracle of Paris, Manchester United have no time for a hangover when they travel to Arsenal on Sunday if their chances of even qualifying for next season’s Champions League are not to suffer significant damage.
Should United repeat their 3-1 success at the Emirates in the FA Cup six weeks ago, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will rack up a perfect 10 away wins since taking caretaker charge to make a seemingly irrefutable case to be handed the job on a permanent basis.
The highlight was beating free-spending Paris Saint-Germain 3-1 in dramatic circumstances on Wednesday to progress to the quarterfinals of the Champions League on away goals and erase the consequences of Solskjaer’s only defeat in 17 games in charge.
United have made up an 11-point gap to the Premier League top four under the Norwegian, but their Champions League status for next season is still far from assured.
The Red Devils lead Arsenal by just a solitary point and a two-point advantage over sixth-placed Chelsea could be wiped out by the Blues’ game in hand at home to Brighton.
Momentum is on United’s side, but they face a far tougher run-in than the Gunners with title chasing Manchester City and Chelsea still to visit Old Trafford.
Solskjaer is positive Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford can strike up a fruitful partnership after both scored in the French capital in midweek.
Rashford started Solskjaer’s reign as the preferred option up front, but Lukaku has forced his way back into the side, scoring twice in each of his last three matches.
“Of course we played with two up front, with him (Lukaku) and Rashy against PSG,” said Solskjaer.
“They might form a very nice partnership together, because I wouldn’t like to be a defender having them two running at me,” he joked.
Solskjaer also has more options on Sunday after 10 first-team players missed Wednesday. Paul Pogba is back from suspension, while Anthony Martial, Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera could be fit to return from injury.
By contrast, the visit of Solskjaer’s men to the Emirates is Arsenal’s last against top six opposition.
“I don’t think it is definitive, but we need to show and push on Sunday to take more possibility to finish in the top four,” said Arsenal boss Unai Emery.
The Spaniard also has reason to be positive. Arsenal have not been beaten at the Emirates in the Premier League since City’s visit on the opening day of the season and have won their last eight home league games.
“We played against a big team and at some moments showed we can fight and battle with them, but we lost and that is the reality,” added Emery on the FA Cup tie between the pair.
“We need fresh players, players with energy, we need quality, we need good combinations, and we need the players who start on the bench after they can help us on the pitch and deliver a big performance as well.”
That suggests Emery could make major changes from the side that lost 3-1 to Rennes in the Europa League on Thursday.
Alexandre Lacazette looks set to return up front after he was suspended for the trip to France in midweek, meaning Arsenal’s top-scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang faces being benched once more.
Aubameyang missed a late penalty that would have brought victory over Tottenham in the north London derby last weekend after coming on as a substitute and Emery has defended his tendency to start just one of his two star strikers.
“They need to accept the decision. I am finding the best decisions for the team,” said the former PSG coach.
“Sometimes I am not happy with them both when their performances are not good when they’re both playing, but I am very consistent in our work to take the best decision and to give them the best performance for us, whether they’re playing together or alone.”


Afghan refugee Nadia Nadim scales summit of women’s football

Updated 19 March 2019
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Afghan refugee Nadia Nadim scales summit of women’s football

  • Nadim sets sights on women's World Cup glory this summer.
  • Former Afghan refugee plans to become a doctor once she hangs up her boots for good.

PARIS: “I don’t really think about the past and what happened,” says Nadia Nadim, the daughter of an executed Afghan general who spent years playing football in the fields beside her refugee camp before becoming a Denmark international.
“I am fortunate to be in a situation where I can play football and love what I do,” adds Nadim, a 31-year-old forward who recently completed a switch from Manchester City to Paris Saint-Germain.
Her story is a remarkable one. She was barely 10 years old when her father was killed by the Taliban, her family fleeing the war-torn nation and finding a new home in Denmark.
The journey from her home in Herat was a long one, via Pakistan and then on to Italy with the aid of human traffickers in a bid to get to Britain where she had family. Instead they found refuge in Denmark.
“We came to Denmark in 2000 when I was 10 or 11 years old, and we used to be in this camp, and just beside this camp there was these amazing football fields,” Nadim told AFP.
“Every day after school me and other refugee kids used to go and watch these other guys train. One day I asked if I could join in, and the coach was like ‘yeah, of course’,” she explained.
Away from the turmoil of her homeland at that time, her teenage years in Denmark were peaceful and she enjoyed comics, school — and especially sport.
“I feel happy and I feel grateful every day. I am fortunate to be in a situation where I can play football, be the player I want to be and meet new people all the time,” she says.
Nadim, who has embarked on studies to become a surgeon after her football days are over, feels the sport is a wonderful social leveller.
“There were a lot of kids from different areas ... Arabs, Iraqi, Bosnian, Somalian, nobody could speak the language, and no-one spoke English, so the only way we communicated was with the game,” she recalled of her early days in Denmark.
“Everyone was included, nobody would say ‘No’ because you are different ... that is what I still love about the game, everyone can be a part of it. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, Christian or Muslim, it’s a game.”
While women’s equality is relatively advanced in Denmark, Nadim concedes that the situation is far more complicated in Afghanistan.
“In Afghanistan girls are not supposed to do sports, not supposed to wear shorts,” she says.
“But you can use sports to change points of view ... I have seen this myself.
“When I was younger my Mum would be like don’t play football with the boys because the women, my friends, think that there is something else going on.
“I used to hide myself on the street — we used to play street football — because my Mum was like, if they see you they are going to start talking.
“That was so stupid.”
Nadim went on to become a full Denmark international and played in the European championships final in 2017 where she scored the opening goal but could not prevent her side losing 4-2 to the Netherlands.
However, to her enormous chagrin, Denmark did not qualify for the World Cup, which kicks off in France in June.
“I was so disappointed,” she says.
She is circumspect when asked if she thinks the World Cup is going to be a “turning point” for the growth of women’s football.
“I don’t think there’s one tournament or one point that’s going to change everything,” she said. “I don’t think that’s how it works. It’s going to take time, but we’re on the right path.”
When she hangs up her boots, the woman who was forced to flee conflict herself says she hopes to combine her burgeoning medical career with humanitarian work.
“I think Doctors Without Borders do a great job and I’d love to be there for a couple of years to gain experience, but also be in an area where you probably are the only person who can help these people.”