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

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.”


Top Saudi duo leads staggering entry for Rally Qassim 2019

Updated 15 October 2019

Top Saudi duo leads staggering entry for Rally Qassim 2019

  • Several drivers are keen to test their skills ahead of Dakar Rally next year

BURAIDAH: A staggering entry of 63 cars, 1 truck, 18 motorcycles and 8 quads will tackle this weekend’s Rally Qassim 2019, the second round of the exciting new Saudi Toyota Desert Rally Championship.

There is strength in depth throughout the entire car field and the three T1, T2 and T3 categories, with Saudi Arabia’s leading cross-country star Yazeed Al-Rajhi topping the entry after finishing fifth overall at last week’s Rally of Morocco.

Fellow Saudi Yasir Seaidan wheels out his MINI All4 Racing, as the two leading Saudi stars go head-to-head across home terrain. Abu Dhabi Racing’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi is also on hand to challenge for overall honors in a Peugeot 3008 DXR.

There is a strong Saudi influence in the upper reaches of the top 10 with the likes of Essa Al-Dossari, Ahmed Al-Shegawi and Mutair Al-Shammeri, but there is an international flavor to the entry as well, with several drivers keen to test before the Dakar Rally crosses the country for the first time in January 2020.

Czech driver Miroslav Zapletal wheels out his Ford F-150 Evo, Egyptian Yara Shalaby has entered a Nissan and there are entries for Kuwait’s Mohammed Al-Dhafiri and Emirati Abdullah Al-Heraiz.

Saleh Al-Saif tops a strong lineup in the T3 category at the helm of his Can-Am Maverick X3 and faces 12 Saudi rivals – three in Yamahas, one in a Polaris and eight in Can-Ams.

Ibrahim Al-Muhanna won the Hail International Rally back in 2014 with Emirati navigator Ali Hassan Obaid and he drives the sole T4 Mercedes truck, with Osama Al-Sanad and Raed Abo Theeb alongside.

 Using the event as a perfect opportunity to shake down his KTM 450 Rally after the recent Jordan Baja win is the Emirati racer Mohammed Al-Balooshi. 

He leads  an 18-strong motorcycle field that includes other riders from the host country, New Zealand and the UK.

Philip Wilson represents New Zealand, Anthony King is the sole UK entrant, while Emirati Abdullah bin Dakhan rides a Yamaha against a field that includes 14 Saudi riders.

Multiple Hail International Rally winner Abdulmajeed Al-Khulaifi tops the quad category on his Yamaha. 

The Saudi has won the Kingdom’s premier off-road rally’s quad section for the last six successive seasons — three times on a Kawasaki and three times on a Yamaha - but faces some of his strongest ever competition in Buraidah.

He lines up against the likes of the experienced Sultan Al-Masoud, Abdulsalam Hamam and Yousef Al-Namasi.

The event is  organized by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, under the chairmanship of   Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, and takes place from Thursday  to Saturday.

It is the second of five rounds of the Saudi Toyota Desert Rally Championship with three further rallies still to run this year on Nov.  4-9, Nov. 27-30 and Dec. 12-14 . 

Action at Rally Qassim 2019 gets underway with a short super special stage of 3.55km from 16:10hrs at Wahtan in Buraidah on Thursday afternoon. There will be 347.80km timed against the clock in a compact route of 548.80km.

The event runs with the support of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, the General Sports Authority, Abdul Latif Jameel Motors (Toyota), the MBC Group and Al-Arabia.