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Nicol: Man United should have gotten result at Arsenal

LONDON -- Unai Emery has largely slipped under the radar during his first season as Arsenal manager. The pressure has been on simply because he replaced the legendary figure of Arsene Wenger, but in comparison to his direct rivals, the former Sevilla and Paris Saint-Germain coach has had to fight to be noticed.

He has not been showered with the praise so often lavished on Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham and has escaped the scrutiny that has weighed down heavily on Chelsea's Maurizio Sarri. As for Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United, Emery's ups and downs at the Emirates have been drowned out by the noise around the two managers employed at Old Trafford this season.

But Arsenal's 2-0 defeat of Solskjaer's United at the Emirates Stadium saw Emery give a timely reminder of his credentials and answer more than a few questions. This was a game that Arsenal needed to win, primarily for their ambition to finish in Premier League's Champions League qualification places, but also because they had to bounce back from Thursday's 3-1 Europa League last-16, first-leg defeat against Rennes in France.

- Man United ratings: De Gea error, Lukaku miss contribute to defeat

With the return fixture looming against the Ligue 1 outfit later this week, the Gunners' season was threatening to hinge on the outcome of two big games. Defeat in the first one, against a United side buoyed by their remarkable Champions League win against Paris Saint-Germain, would have been a damaging setback to Arsenal's top-four hopes, but Emery chose to be bold.

Some might even argue he was reckless to select an all-out attacking line-up against opponents that had not been beaten in league place since Solskjaer replaced Mourinho in mid-December. It looked as if Emery was about to repeat the mistakes repeatedly made by Wenger against the top teams, by overloading in the attacking half of the pitch and hoping for the best at the back.

But he nevertheless included Aaron Ramsey, Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mesut Ozil in his XI, ahead of Granit Xhaka in midfield and a back three -- Laurent Koscielny, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Nacho Monreal -- that was trusted to stifle Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku and.

Albeit thanks in no small part to some bad finishing by United, the home side's approach worked. Emery has had three-quarters of a season to work with his players on the training pitch at Arsenal's London Colney base and the defensive drills have clearly had a positive effect; his side looked well-organised and determined against United and were prepared to throw their bodies in the way when it mattered.

That may be a pre-requirement of any footballer, but for too long under Wenger, defending appeared to be something that only the other team did. Emery has sorted that problem out and, as a result, Arsenal are a more obdurate proposition than in the past; their spirit was a big plus in the manager's eyes.

"Being competitive like today for 90 minutes can give us a stronger mentality," Emery said after the game. "They (United) were in a good moment after one result against PSG but we had a big performance and we are in a good moment in the Premier League. To take three points and get a good position for our target is very good and I'm happy for the players."

In the closing moments, Arsenal supporters sang, "Tottenham Hotspur, we're coming for you!" as they celebrated a win that moved within one point of their third-placed neighbours. Defeat at Southampton on Saturday -- their third in four league games -- has dragged Pochettino's side back into the fight for the top four; Spurs, Arsenal, United and Chelsea will fight it out for the final two Champions League spots.

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On Feb. 8, a fire at an uninspected youth dorm at one of Brazil's highest-earning clubs killed 10 young players. How?

When Boca Juniors and River Plate were set to meet in Argentina's most important match, Buenos Aires lost its mind, writes Wright Thompson.

Four points separate Spurs in third and Chelsea, who are sixth with a game in hand. Arsenal have played all of their fixtures against big-six rivals -- this win added to others at home vs. Tottenham and Chelsea -- and so have a favourable run-in. Spurs, meanwhile, have still to visit Liverpool and Manchester City, as well as hit the ground running at their new stadium when they finally move in next month. 

United must host City and Chelsea at Old Trafford and negotiate a difficult trip to seventh-placed Wolves, who earned a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge earlier on Sunday. As for Chelsea, they face a trip to Anfield in addition to that game at United and, like Arsenal, must juggle league games with Europa League commitments.

Solskjaer was correct when he admitted after Sunday's game that the race "is going to go down to the wire" but, by virtue of this win, Arsenal are firmly in control of their own destiny. For that, Emery deserves credit; fortune favoured the brave on this occasion and it might propel his side all the way into the Champions League next season.

LONDON -- Manchester United caretaker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has refused to blame David De Gea for Arsenal's opener during the 2-0 defeat at the Emirates, while rejecting suggestions from Gary Neville that the Spaniard's form is suffering because of uncertainty over his future.

De Gea, who is approaching the final year of his deal at Old Trafford, was wrong-footed by Granit Xhaka's speculative 25-yard strike after 12 minutes to set United on their way to a first Premier League defeat under Solskjaer.

ESPN+ is America's home for a host of professional soccer leagues from around the world, highlighted by Italy's Serie A, Major League Soccer, UEFA Nations League and English FA Cup. |
ESPN+ schedule

ESPN FC's experts ranked the best men's players and managers in world football. Check it out.

On Feb. 8, a fire at an uninspected youth dorm at one of Brazil's highest-earning clubs killed 10 young players. How?

When Boca Juniors and River Plate were set to meet in Argentina's most important match, Buenos Aires lost its mind, writes Wright Thompson.

Neville suggested "noise in his ear" surrounding the contract stand-off might be affecting the 28-year-old, but Solskjaer insisted his goalkeeper, the club's player of the year in four-of-the-last-five seasons, is focused.

United have been negotiating a new five-year contract with De Gea for more than a year but without fresh terms he will be allowed to leave for free in 2020.

"I don't class [the goal] as a mistake," Solskjaer told a news conference. "I'm stood right behind the ball. We don't put pressure on Xhaka, he must be Brazilian because the way he struck the ball and it swerves and moves in the air, goes towards David's left and then changes direction completely. That's just one of those things.

"David is really focused and concentrated. He's too professional to let his mind wander. The best players know how to focus and he's been absolutely fantastic."

After Xhaka's opener, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored a second-half penalty to make the game safe after Fred had been penalised for bringing down Alexandre Lacazette.

Solskjaer insisted referee Jon Moss had got the decision wrong but the Norwegian was far from disappointed with his team's performance despite a run of nine successive away wins coming to an end.

"You have to be disappointed with the result but the performance was a good one," said Solskjaer. "We created miles more chances than compared to the cup game when we played them.

"The first goal always determines how the game will go. But we created chances, big chances and hit the woodwork twice. In terms of what you can control as your own performance we shouldn't be too disappointed, but then again they've got three points and we haven't."

The result moved Arsenal back up to fourth in the table, two points clear of United in the race for a place in next season's Champions League.

There are just four points separating Tottenham in third and Chelsea in sixth and Solskjaer believes the battle for a top-four finish could go down to the final games.

"It's going to be down to the wire, the last few games, definitely," said Solskjaer. "We've given ourselves a great chance to be in that fight, two points behind fourth, three points behind third, it's a good position to be in."

A spectator who ran onto the pitch at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium on Sunday and appeared to push Manchester United defender Chris Smalling has been arrested on suspicion of common assault, police said.

The man ran onto the pitch after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored from the penalty spot to put Arsenal 2-0 in front against United in the second half of their 2-0 win.

ESPN+ is America's home for a host of professional soccer leagues from around the world, highlighted by Italy's Serie A, Major League Soccer, UEFA Nations League and English FA Cup. |
ESPN+ schedule

ESPN FC's experts ranked the best men's players and managers in world football. Check it out.

On Feb. 8, a fire at an uninspected youth dorm at one of Brazil's highest-earning clubs killed 10 young players. How?

When Boca Juniors and River Plate were set to meet in Argentina's most important match, Buenos Aires lost its mind, writes Wright Thompson.

He then ran towards the celebrating Arsenal players before being removed from the playing area by stewards.

"A man has been arrested on suspicion of common assault and pitch invasion following an incident during the Arsenal v Man Utd game at the Emirates Stadium," a Metropolitan Police statement on Twitter said.

The statement added that the man was in custody at a police station in North London.

An Arsenal spokesman said the club condemned the behaviour of the pitch invader and apologised to Smalling and United.

"We will be working closely with the Metropolitan Police in their investigation," the spokesman added. "The individual will also be banned from Arsenal matches, home and away."

"I didn't see exactly what happened but there shouldn't be a place in the game where someone runs on to the pitch," United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said. "It's not nice to see. It's one of those thing that we don't want."

Earlier on Sunday, Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish was punched in the back of the head by a spectator who ran onto the pitch during Villa's derby match at Birmingham City.

Villa's 1-0 win at St. Andrews was barely 10 minutes old when a fan came onto the field of play and approached Grealish.

The fan swung a punch from behind and caught the Villa player, who fell to the ground. A steward managed to restrain the supporter and marched him off the pitch.

West Midlands police later confirmed the supporter had been arrested, while Grealish went on to score the decisive goal as Villa won 1-0.

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