The row over the abolition of FA Cup replays intensified on Friday, with the EFL accusing the Football Association and the Premier League of sidelining its clubs from the decision-making process.

Here the PA news agency looks at the situation more closely.

What has happened?

The EFL released an explosive statement on Friday afternoon saying the agreement announced between the FA and the Premier League on the new format and funding for the FA Cup was “a further example of how the EFL and its clubs are being marginalised in favour of others further up the pyramid” which “only serves to threaten the future of the English game”.

A number of EFL clubs and some from lower down the pyramid have also criticised the lack of consultation on the issue. One of them, League Two side Bradford, said that although retrospective consultation was still necessary, it would be “nothing more than an insult”.

What has the FA said?

Football’s national governing body said it “understands the concerns” expressed in the last 24 hours and said it would be “sharing more details with clubs very shortly to explain the additional revenue opportunities in the early rounds”.

It added that the EFL had been involved in discussions about replays for over a year and that “all parties accepted they could not continue”. The FA also pointed out that the calendar changes were approved by its Professional Game Board (PGB) which includes four EFL representatives.

So the EFL backed the changes?

The EFL insists the abolition of replays from the FA Cup was “agreed solely between the FA and the Premier League”. It said its PGB representatives did challenge the position on replays and were told that clubs would be “comfortable” without them. The EFL added: “Any decisions taken on the calendar involving EFL representatives are in no way an endorsement of the joint deal agreed between the FA and Premier League that imposes changes to the FA Cup competition format in isolation.”

The FA, EFL and Premier League were in discussions over the so-called “New Deal For Football” to agree new financial settlements and changes to the domestic calendar in response to fixture pressures caused by UEFA expanding its club competitions from 2024-25. However, the EFL statement says the discussions over the FA Cup were “bilateral” between the FA and the Premier League.

The EFL insists it must be involved in all discussions on changes to the calendar affecting its clubs and crucially, how any such changes are compensated for. But sources close to the EFL feel that now Premier League clubs have opted to halt talks on a new settlement with the 72 clubs, the EFL is being sidelined.

What happens now?

The FA says it will try to convince lower-league clubs they will not “lose out” as a result of the changes. The EFL says the FA and the Premier League must “re-evaluate their approach” to dealing with it and its 72 clubs.

York owner Matt Uggla has said he will contact all those clubs who have spoken out in opposition to the changes to “discuss our options” regarding the FA Cup.

“We might be called small clubs but together we are giants,” he wrote on X.

He described boycotting the FA Cup as “the nuclear option”.

Dominic Ffrench Davis would love a crack at the Chester Cup with Prince Alex having seen him make a winning return to action in the Compton Beauchamp Estates Ltd Silver Bar Handicap at Newbury.

With last year’s Chester hero Metier and another leading fancy in Spartan Army behind him, Ffrench Davis has every right to be thinking that way, if the seven-year-old makes the cut.

He has been well travelled in the Amo Racing colours, being with Ralph Beckett initially before moving to Michael Bell, then Johnny Murtagh and Tom Dascombe and then Lambourn.

Yet despite his advancing years, the 10-1 chance – fourth in this race 12 months ago – looked a rejuvenated character in fending off Robert Johnson by a length and three-quarters.

“It was a super performance and he’s been moving very well at home,” said French Davis.

“He wintered with us, he’s a seven-year-old now and I think he probably had a few aches and pains. We gave him a good break over the winter and he’s come back a better horse and is moving beautifully. He used to hang a bit and he doesn’t hang at all now.

“I think he’s feeling well in himself now and has slipped to a rating that he’s always been a bit better than. This was a bit of a warm up for the Chester Cup and it was also to see if he stayed the two miles.

“I didn’t have him last year and I had a horse in this race finish second and I was watching this one thinking ‘oooh he’s cantering’ and he didn’t finish off his race. But he was probably feeling a few aches and pains and when we got him in Lambourn at the end of last season he ran two very solid races.

“I thought starting off I best give him another go at two miles and both times we ran him he looked like he wanted it. We decided to aim at these staying races and he’s in a great frame of mind. He’s improved no end in the last couple of weeks and he’s not quite there in his coat so he is going to improve again.

“Let’s hope there is a little bit of soft at Chester and we can have a crack. It’s a great prize and he switches off lovely. If the ground is suitable, let’s have a go.”

Unfortunately the news for Ffrench Davis’ 1000 Guineas hope Persian Dreamer is not so positive and she is now unlikely to make the fillies’ Classic.

“She’s had a little minor setback in pre-training and we’re giving her time to get over that and we’re not sure when we will have her back in full training,” he said.

“I think it is likely she will miss the Guineas and she’s in Ireland just trying to get over her setback.

“It’s disappointing and we might not get our ground anyway in the Guineas, she is a filly who loves to get her toe in and she might not get the ground at Newmarket to run her there.”

West Indies fast bowling legend Courtney Walsh has joined Zimbabwe’s women’s team as a coaching consultant, as they prepare to challenge for a spot at the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in Bangladesh later this year.

The Jamaican, who led West Indies women’s to the semi-finals of the 2022 ICC Women's World Cup in New Zealand, where they lost to eventual winners Australia, will now aim to rewrite the history books by assisting Zimbabwe to a maiden World Cup appearance.

The Lady Chevrons are targeting one of two spots from the Women's T20 World Cup qualifiers, which begins in the United Arab Emirates on April 25.

Walsh, 61, who took 519 Test wickets in his stellar career, is assisting head coach Walter Chawaguta ahead of the tournament, and Givemore Makoni, managing director of Zimbabwe’s Cricket is delighted to have the legendary pacer on board.

"We count ourselves fortunate and privileged to be able to bring in Courtney as a technical consultant for our campaign in Abu Dhabi," Makoni said.

"He is one of the world's greatest cricketers and we believe his experience at the highest level of the women's game in particular will boost our chances,” he added.

A total of 10 teams will participate in the qualifiers in the UAE, which culminates on May 7.

The sides will be split into two groups of five, with the top two progressing to the semi-finals, from where the two finalists will secure berths to the Women's T20 World Cup in Bangladesh later this year.

Walsh and his Zimbabwe outfit will face the hosts, Ireland, the Netherlands and Vanuatu in Group B, while Sri Lanka, Thailand, Scotland, Uganda and United States, are set to lock horns in Group A.

Zimbabwe women won the gold medal at the African Games in Ghana last month, beating South Africa in a super over.

Kawhi Leonard is questionable for Game 1 of the Los Angeles Clippers' playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks as he continues to be troubled by inflammation in his right knee.

Leonard has undergone surgeries to repair damage to the anterior cruciate ligament and the meniscus in his right knee in the last few years, having torn his ACL during a second-round playoff series against the Utah Jazz in 2021.

The six-time All-Star has not featured for the Clippers – who clinched the Western Conference's fifth seed – since the end of March, missing their last eight games of the regular season. 

Speaking ahead of Thursday's practice session, the Clippers' president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank said Leonard had work to do to make Sunday's matchup at Arena.

"He's doing everything, our medical staff is doing everything to get the inflammation down so he can play," Frank said. 

"Progress has been made, but the inflammation needs to continue to reduce so he can do functional basketball movements.

"There is no gamesmanship here and we're very sensitive of the fact that questions are going to be asked and want to be as transparent as possible. It's okay to say what the truth is. It's unpredictable. 

"We're hoping it's trending in the right direction. It's a very accurate statement. When it gets to a point where he's able to play, then that's when he'll be back on the court."

The two-time NBA champion averaged 23.7 points and 6.1 rebounds through 68 regular-season appearances in 2023-24, the former figure falling just short of his 23.8 points per game last term.

Despite Leonard's importance to the Clippers' chances of defeating Luka Doncic and company, Frank says no risks will be taken with his fitness. 

"In terms of where we're heading, is it possible he could play? Sure, it's possible. It's Thursday. With each day we'll know more and more," Frank said. 

"Obviously if he's not healthy to play at a certain moment then he won't be out there. When Kawhi is healthy, he plays. 

"Some things you can't control, regardless of how meticulous he is with his body and everything that goes into playing. You can only control what you can control and you've got to surrender to the things you can't."

Defending champion Luca Brecel has been battling a mystery illness in the build-up to his return to the World Snooker Championship on Saturday.

A nosedive in form and the so-called ‘Crucible curse’ – in which no first-time winner has ever managed to retain the title – are not the only issues afflicting the 29-year-old, who faces a tough opener against former semi-finalist Dave Gilbert.

“I’ve lost my voice a couple of times and I’ve had headaches, a bit like Covid,” said Brecel. “It’s been coming and going ever since the tournament in Saudi (in March), but it’s too big not to play in this one.”

Despite his stunning breakthrough win last season, Brecel heads to the Crucible with arguably the lowest expectations of any returning champion, having reached a solitary ranking event quarter-final this season.

And the Belgian is more than happy to accept the underdog status, adding: “I’m up against a very good player and Dave is probably the favourite to beat me, so it’s a nice challenge.”

Brecel claimed he never practised in the build-up to his famous win last year, in which he edged Ricky Walden in a final-frame decider in the opening round before going on to seal epic back-to-back wins over Ronnie O’Sullivan, Si Jiahui and Mark Selby.

This year he has at least been putting in the hours on the practice table, and says that having achieved his lifetime goal he is able to approach the Crucible with a more pressure-free mindset.

“I remember when I played Ricky last year in the decider I was really nervous at 9-9, and if goes to 9-9 now I won’t feel any nerves,” added Brecel.

“There’s nothing higher than winning the worlds and when you have that goal you always put pressure on yourself, and if you don’t get close to that goal you get frustrated.

“It’s much easier now. I don’t have that any more. I’ve won it before so it’s just about trying to be a better payer and a better person. That’s my goal now.

Brecel and Gilbert will play to a finish on the opening day, while Judd Trump gets his quest for a second title under way against Hossein Vafaei, and two-time finalist Ali Carter starts against Stephen Maguire.

Owner Julie Wood is dreaming of Derby glory with Voyage after seeing her patience being rewarded with a debut victory in the Darley Novice Stakes at Newbury.

Sent off a relatively unconsidered 28-1 chance and seemingly the second string of Richard Hannon behind Sam Hawkens, Voyage travelled like a dream for Pat Dobbs.

While all his rivals were under pressure entering the final furlong, Dobbs was sat motionless at the head of the pincer movement.

The worry was, having travelled so well up to that point, what would he find under pressure? The answer was plenty, as while several made ground from the rear, including Harry Charlton’s Vanish, he could only close to within a length and three-quarters.

“Julie was right by giving the horse a lot of time last year and we brought him here to do a piece of work after the last National Hunt meeting and he worked OK there, but was a bit keen,” said Hannon.

“I liked the horse that finished fifth (Sam Hawkens) a lot and this is not a complete surprise, as he’s shown plenty, but you know what Julie is like, she likes to have a go at the big ones.”

Wood said: “You never know what you have until you ask them, you never know what you’re sitting on.

“I wasn’t worried about the soft ground, but we were just a bit worried about him settling and he still seemed to be finding plenty at the end of the race and Pat didn’t really need to get serious with him, he just pushed him out and the horse changed legs and he was off.

“I have always had a dream of having a horse good enough to line up in the Derby and maybe this is it? To come here today and win in that going is a good effort and Pat rode him really well.

“It’s great to be back at Newbury and to have a horse come up the straight like that against some quality, well-bred animals is really something.

“It’s my 24th year with Richard and I’m still enjoying it, still as fresh as ever. Every season you have new hope and however the dice roll, we’re there to play them and we’ll enjoy every moment.

“I don’t know whether we go straight to the Derby and obviously we need to get a minimum rating to run in the Derby, which he might get after today’s performance.

“We will see how he comes out of today, we have enough time to do something (a trial) but we haven’t entered him anything – today was the aim and the Derby was the hope.”

Royal Ascot could beckon for Hannon’s Hawaiian following a smooth winning debut in the Dubai Duty Free Golf World Cup EBF Maiden Stakes.

A field of eight unraced juveniles lined up from some of the biggest yards in the country, with Hannon’s Kodiac colt sent off the 11-8 favourite.

Sean Levey was always in command on Sheikh Mohammed Obaid’s homebred, and while the winning distance over Clive Cox’s Star Anthem was only a neck, he never truly looked in any danger of being beaten.

Fresh from winning the Craven Stakes with Haatem on Thursday, Hannon clearly has his string in good order at this early stage of the season.

“He did a bit of work at Kempton and I thought it was a little bit too good to be true,” said Hannon.

“He’s done everything so easily at home, he hasn’t learned anything and he might have just learned something today.

“Sean said if he had made the running, it might have made it easier, but we think a fair bit of him and he’s a fast horse who we will stick to five furlongs with at the moment.

“It’s a bit early doors to be talking about Royal Ascot, but we might look at a Lily Agnes or something on the way. He will need one more run before Ascot just to be sure.

“He’s very fast, knows his job and that will do him good. I hope he is an Ascot horse and he travelled great. That experience under his belt will do him good and I think he will improve a lot from that, like all ours do.”

Ronnie O’Sullivan has gone back to basics in his bid to eclipse Stephen Hendry and become the first eight-time world snooker champion in the modern era.

At the age of 48 and with a record 41 ranking titles – including 23 triple crowns – behind him, O’Sullivan has discovered that he “doesn’t know much about snooker” and has linked back up with a former coach with the aim of improving his approach to the game.

O’Sullivan must wait until Wednesday to put his new approach to the test against qualifier Jackson Page in the first round of the World Championship, which gets under way at the Crucible in Sheffield on Saturday morning.

O’Sullivan said: “I’ve been trying to think how I want the next five to 10 years to be. I’ve been working with a coach and we’ve done a lot of testing in some ways and I’ve realised I don’t know much about snooker.

“I thought I did. I know how to get a ball in a hole, and I know how to compete and win it, and I’ve got an idea of what needs to happen – I know I have to get this bit of wood and this ball and if I do this, that should happen.

“But I haven’t been that efficient in the last few years and I’ve just tried to accept that I needed a bit of help, so I’ve gone back to a coach that worked with my old coach, and I’m going back through the stuff that worked for me.”

O’Sullivan’s latest coach, Nic Barrow, is a veteran figure on the world snooker circuit and runs a training programme called ‘The Snooker Gym’ which vows to “help frustrated amateurs with any problem in diagnosis”.

O’Sullivan heads to the Crucible as the world number one and with five ranking titles in the bag this season, but insists he has been far from satisfied with his performances during this campaign, and needs to make changes in order to ensure longevity in the sport.

Despite frequent threats of retirement over the years, he now appears committed to extending his career into his sixth decade, adding: “I like to win and I’ve got another five to 10 years, and I’ve got to enjoy the work that I’m doing.

“I know I’ve won tournaments but winning and playing to a certain standard don’t always match up. I’ve played a lot better and not won anything all season. It doesn’t really make sense but I haven’t really enjoyed it, I’ve just been struggling to get through the ball smoothly.

“Being happy with the game is what it’s all about, or if that’s not the case, I’ve got to get around not playing well and accept it, but I’m not good at accepting it.

“There’s two ways to come at it, from a technical point of view with the help of Steve (Peters, psychologist), or if I can’t do that, I’ve got to accept that I am where I am and not let it wind me up. That’s the worst-case scenario. There’s another one, saying I’m not bothered, but I’m not quite ready for that.”

Defending champion Luca Brecel starts on the opening morning against former semi-finalist David Gilbert while former champion Judd Trump plays the first session of his tough first round match against Hossein Vafaei.

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers has warned his players they cannot afford to “soften up” because of results elsewhere.

The cinch Premiership champions have seen their title hopes receive a major boost since beating St Mirren 3-0 on Saturday, after which Rangers dropped five points in games against Ross County and Dundee.

Celtic remain top by three points – and have a five-goal advantage – with five matches remaining in the league.

The championship race takes a back seat this weekend when Celtic take on Aberdeen in the Scottish Gas Scottish Cup semi-finals, before Rangers face Hearts at Hampden on Sunday.

Rodgers wants his side to remain focused on the task in hand and not slip into a comfort zone as a result of their rivals’ slip-ups.

“Our focus has always been on ourselves,” Rodgers said. “I made that point to the players.

“Irrespective of what happens or what other results (are) or the way it goes for other teams, we can only do our work.

“Because you can’t soften up – especially at this time just because another team might have drawn or lost. That’s irrelevant.

“You have to perform and get the result. If you come off it against teams who are motivated and organised, then they can give you a problem.

“So for us, we have to continually focus on our own performance – irrespective of what happens elsewhere because we have to create our story.  And for that we have to work at it. Hopefully that will be the storyline come the end of the season.”

Rodgers, who has Liam Scales back fit for the Hampden clash on Saturday, added: “We don’t play in the league for a week or so, so it’s not my focus

“My message has always been the same, it’s not how you start the marathon, it’s how you finish it. For us, we are improving day by day, looking good on the field, still with lots of improvement to make.

“Performances in the main have been good. But still a long, long way to go in terms of the league. Fifteen points is a lot of points to play for. But our focus now is just on getting to the final.”

When asked if he ever had any doubt that Celtic would come good during tough moments such as losing back-to-back league games in December, Rodgers said: “Listen, we haven’t won anything yet.

“We are in a semi-final, which is great, we are improving and the performance level is showing that. I demand more from the team and I will push right until that last whistle of the season.

“But for me it’s part of a league campaign – you will not play 38 games at the very highest level. You are going to have dips and waves, but your strength is how you shift that.

“That’s the real strength in those moments, whenever it isn’t going quite well, can you shift it and get the team back on track?

“And the players have been absolutely brilliant. They have had to dig in at lots of moments this season and get results.

“But we just chipped away and stayed focused on our game model and how we play, and whenever influential players come back in, then all the pieces come together again and the fluidity of the team is much better.

“You can never have doubt, and the more we work together, on and off the pitch, it all feels that everyone is on the same page.”

Erling Haaland is a doubt for Manchester City’s FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea on Saturday.

The Norwegian striker was surprisingly substituted prior to extra time of the Champions League quarter-final loss to Real Madrid on Wednesday.

Manager Pep Guardiola revealed after the game the 23-year-old asked to be withdrawn but did not give a reason why.

Speaking on Friday, Guardiola confirmed the forward had suffered an injury but still gave little indication as to how serious.

Guardiola said at a press conference: “We will see. It was a tough game, a lot of action, high intensity for both sides.

“Erling felt something, a muscular issue. That’s why he told me he could not continue.

“The (doctor) said he had a little bit of niggles, a little problem, we will see how his evolution is in the next hours.”

In a more positive update, Guardiola confirmed playmaker Kevin De Bruyne “feels well” having been taken off during extra time against Real for nothing more serious than exhaustion.

Guardiola feels, given the schedule, it is understandable that players would be tired at this stage of the season.

He said: “It’s normal with the amount of games we are playing this season and the previous seasons and not much recovery, and extra time and high intensity.

“We put a lot of pressure in our game and that’s why the fatigue is there. They are human beings. They are not a machine. We are used to it.”

The agonising penalty shoot-out defeat by Real ended City’s hopes of winning the treble for a second season in succession.

Yet they remain on course to repeat the domestic double and Guardiola is determined to bounce back from the midweek heartache.

He said: “We don’t have another option. I don’t want us to feel sorry for ourselves.

“In football, you lose games. We performed at our best and we were not able to win. You have to accept it.

“We did everything. We know it, they know it, all the world know it, but it was not enough. When it’s not enough, it’s bad night.

“So congratulations (to Real) and, tomorrow, FA Cup.”

Dan Skelton is banking on a big run from L’Eau Du Sud in the Coral Scottish Champion Hurdle to keep him in with a chance of claiming a first trainers’ title.

Runner-up in two of the most competitive handicaps of the season, the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and the County Hurdle at Cheltenham, the six-year-old has been aimed at this ever since.

Cheltenham week went swimmingly for Skelton and co-owners Sir Alex Ferguson and John Hales, but the feeling was L’Eau Du Sud was mugged by the Willie Mullins-trained Ebor winner Absurde.

“He’s in good order and this is the race we’ve had in mind since Cheltenham, when he was second in the County Hurdle,” said Skelton.

“That was a very good run considering Absurde came from nowhere and showed great Flat speed late on.

“The ground will be perfect for him, the track is no issue, he travels very well and I’d say he’s a very big player, but the prices reflect that.

“If we’ve any chance of overhauling Willie, we need L’Eau Du Sud to figure pretty well, to be honest.

“It looked like we had it won at Cheltenham, but (Paul) Townend had different ideas and used all the Flat speed, so fair play to them, they picked up on the day but we’ll be looking to collect on Saturday.”

Skelton is battling with his old boss Paul Nicholls and Irish champion trainer Mullins, who runs Westport Cove, Bialystok and Alvaniy.

His son and assistant Patrick feels the middle one of that trio may be their best chance.

“Westport Cove is a horse with an awful lot of ability, but he’s a very difficult ride. At Cheltenham, he lost his head and my big worry is that it’s probably too big a field for him, as he has to be dropped out, which is hard to do in a big-field handicap like that,” he said on a Zoom call with the track.

“Bialystok is a Flat-bred horse who I could see winning on the Flat in the summer. There’s a race in this fella. He was unlucky at the DRF, when he got brought down at the second last, and it didn’t happen for him at Cheltenham. If the ground isn’t too soft, he’ll have his chance.

“We also run Alvaniy, who is 8lb out of the handicap but he’s a horse I definitely think is better than his mark. While it will be difficult from 8lb out of the weights, he’s a horse that could pick up place money. There’s a big race in him, but it won’t be easy from out of the handicap.”

Nicholls runs last year’s winner Rubaud off top weight and Afadil.

“Rubaud won this race stylishly last year off a mark of 135 on good ground and has a much harder task this time off 148,” Nicholls told Betfair.

“I don’t think he was right when he ran below par last time on heavy ground at Wincanton. He seems in a good place at the moment but I’d say he has it all to do off top weight on ground that is softer than he prefers.

“Afadil been running at the top of his form this spring and comes here a week after finishing third in a competitive race at Aintree, despite losing ground after a standing start.

“With Freddie Gingell claiming a handy 5lb, Afadil has a lovely light weight of only 10st 3lb and has a sporting each-way chance.”

Thomas Tuchel has insisted Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga season is far from over despite Bayer Leverkusen ending the club’s bid for a 12th successive title.

Leverkusen’s 5-0 home win over Werder Bremen last Sunday left Bayern 16 points adrift with just five games to play, and although Tuchel’s deposed champions soothed their disappointment in midweek when they edged past Arsenal to book a Champions League semi-final showdown with Real Madrid, they still have work to do on the domestic front.

They lead third-placed Stuttgart only on goal difference and with RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund still fighting for a top-four finish, cannot afford to relax as they head for Union Berlin on Saturday.

Tuchel told a press conference: “We want to prove our good form tomorrow.”You can celebrate moments like against Arsenal. The fixture list is full, now we’ve got another away trip, but the emotions after a game like that are special. It’s not a given. The team was able to enjoy it.

“I don’t know if it’ll kick-start things – it would be too late in the Bundesliga. We’ll prepare in a professional way. We’ve got a lot to come. The season isn’t over yet in the Bundesliga.”

Tuchel has decisions to make ahead of the trip to Berlin with Leroy Sane unlikely to be involved as he recovers from injury and Serge Gnabry facing a race against time to face Madrid on April 30.

Vastly experienced forward Thomas Muller was an unused substitute against the Gunners and Tuchel admits neither he nor the player was happy about the situation.

He said: “I hope our relationship is good and that it remains. Neither of us like the situation. He doesn’t like that he didn’t play and I don’t like that I had to tell him that.

“It was a sporting decision and no depreciation of his sporting status. He’s professional enough to put it behind him.”

Sane found himself the centre of attention the last time the sides met in January when Union coach Nenad Bjelica was sent off after pushing the Germany winger in the face as he attempted to retrieve the ball on the sideline and was subsequently handed a three-match ban and fined 25,000 euros.

Tuchel said: “I’d forgotten about that. I’m pleased for my colleague that there was no further impact. It was a one-off. They’ve become more solid under him and taken a step forward.”

Bjelica’s men, who have won just one of their last seven games, face a very different challenge to Bayern as they attempt to increase the three-point gap which currently separates them from the danger zone at the foot of the table.

The head coach told a press conference: “Of course it’s a big challenge to play against Bayern, but we expect to have a chance against any opponent. The entire squad is highly motivated.”

Mikel Arteta has challenged his Arsenal team to show “what they are made of” after seeing their Premier League title bid stutter and their Champions League hopes dashed.

The Gunners crashed out of Europe at the hands of Bayern Munich on Wednesday as the German side earned a 3-2 aggregate quarter-final victory.

That loss came hot on the heels of a 2-0 home defeat to Aston Villa in the league, but Arsenal have the chance to return to the summit by beating Wolves on Saturday, with leaders Manchester City in FA Cup semi-final action against Chelsea.

Speaking ahead of the trip to Molineux, Arteta said: “It’s been an experience, not the best one.

“We’re fully focused on the times we have ahead of us with six games to go.

“The context is clear, if we win we go top of the league, you don’t need anything else to be motivated.”

Arsenal are without a win in their last three games in all competitions, having drawn the first leg against Bayern.

“It is what it is and we have to accept it,” Arteta added.

“The Bayern one at home at the beginning, it could have been different. Against Villa we were the better team, but in the second half we paid the price for the chances we gave them and we have to move on from there.

“Now it is about showing against Wolves what we are made of and turning the situation around.”

Arteta thanked his players for all they have achieved so far this season.

He said: “I’m fully behind them. Thank you so much for the journey together, thank you for being in the quarter-finals of the Champions League and being so close.

“Thank you for competing against the best team in Premier League history (Manchester City) and the best team in the competition in the last eight years with Liverpool and we’re in with a chance to win it.

“Thank you so much for everything they have done, because it is unbelievable.”

At Molineux, Arsenal will face a Wolves side who are without a win in their last four league matches, but Arteta praised the job manager Gary O’Neil has done since taking over last summer.

He said: “He’s done unbelievable, so well. You can see by the way they’re coached, the spirit of the team, the difficulty they create for every opponent, they’re a really good side and it will be tough tomorrow.”

With the British trainers’ title on the line, Willie Mullins sends a six-strong squad to contest the Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr on Saturday.

Mullins is not only seeking his first win in the £200,000 feature, he has never had a single winner at the track. But that could all change this weekend, as he saddles 18 runners across the afternoon.

His National team consists of Macdermott, Mr Incredible, Spanish Harlem, Ontheropes, Klarc Kent and We’llhavewan and assistant trainer Patrick Mullins ran the rule over the sextet in a Zoom call organised by the racecourse.

“Macdermott is an improving horse, he was always going to be a big chaser, he’s a strong type and was always going to improve for a fence and over a trip,” he said.

“He was good the last time out at Fairyhouse and he’s the kind of horse who improves with racing, we struggle to get him fit at home, to be honest, he needs racing to get the weight off him.

“He’s running off a much higher mark (12lb) and that’s going to be a big ask in a far more competitive race.

“I ride Mr Incredible, he didn’t get very far at Aintree, he’s fresh and well, so he’ll take his chance.

“Off a mark of 153, with 11st 9lb, it’s going to be difficult but if he could run into a place, that would be fantastic. We’re hoping he jumps off, that’s the first thing!

“Paul (Townend) was keen to ride Spanish Harlem and he’s a horse we’ve always thought an awful lot of. He has disappointed us a little because his work at home has been far superior to his form on the track.

“It’s his first handicap, so he’ll have to jump pretty sharp, but we’d like to think he’s better than a mark of 140. Paul just thought he had more room for improvement than Macdermott.

“Sean O’Keeffe rides Klarc Kent, very much an old-fashioned chaser, a horse who really should come into his own over four miles. He’s a novice off a low weight but he needs to improve.

“Brian Hayes rides Ontheropes. He got a leg after he won the Munster National and has been disappointing since but he was coming back to form last time and could be just coming to form at the right time.

“We’llhavewan was second in the Grand National Trial at Punchestown and ran well in the Irish National when perhaps he didn’t get home, but I think he just made some crucial jumping errors which just knocked him back.

“We’ve put the cheekpieces back on and that should help him jump sharper. He’s a little out of the handicap but Kieran Callaghan is our claiming rider, a local guy and he’s very good. I could see him running into the money.”

Dan Skelton is battling with Mullins for the title and is represented by Ballygrifincottage.

“He’s a horse that just recently has done really well. He had a bad autumn and winter but his form as a novice hurdler and early novice chaser looked very good,” said Skelton.

“For whatever reason, we lost him completely and everything just went to pot but he’s back in great form now and it was a good run at Ascot on his comeback and an even better run at Sandown when second the last day.

“I don’t think four miles will be a problem, but you never actually know until you try it – there is a slight unknown with that, but I go into it with the expectation that he’ll stay the trip.”

Trying to cling on to his title is Paul Nicholls, who runs top-weight Stay Away Fay and Broken Halo.

Nicholls told Betfair of the former: “He’s a class horse but life isn’t going to be easy for him running off top weight of 12st off a mark of 158.

“It just didn’t happen for him in the Turners at Cheltenham, where he was never happy, didn’t travel in the ground and his jumping let him down.

“We’ve removed the cheekpieces he wore there, as they didn’t seem to work, and I’ve felt for some time he would be suited by marathon trips. The track at Ayr should be much more suitable for him.

“Broken Halo was in with a shout when falling two out in the London National at Sandown in December and won at Taunton last month. He looks an interesting outsider.”

Brian Ellison’s Anglers Crag arrives chasing a five-timer and proved his stamina when winning the Eider Chase.

“This has been the plan since the Eider and he’s in good form. He’s been blood tested and scoped, everything looks clean and he looks a million dollars, so we just want a bit of luck in running now,” said Ellison.

“A bit of soft ground would help keep the job right for him. He’s gone up again in the weights, but you deserve to when you win, don’t you? It’s when you finish second and you go up that I don’t like!

“Willie Mullins obviously runs six, he’s struggling for winners!”

The form choice is arguably Jamie Snowden’s Git Maker, second to subsequent Grade One winner Inothewayurthinkin at Cheltenham.

“He ran a blinder to finish second at Cheltenham, pulling a long way clear of the third horse, and the winner has obviously come out and won a Grade One at Aintree, so the form has certainly been franked,” said Snowden.

“We’re up 1lb for that and we go there in good form. Obviously, it’s a highly competitive race, as you’d expect, but we couldn’t be happier with our chap and he gets in off 10st 3lb.

“I think he’ll stay well. They’ve had a bit of rain there and you would certainly hope the ground would be on the softer side, as he would definitely want a bit of cut in the ground.

“With a little bit of luck in running, hopefully he’ll have a chance.”

Emma Lavelle’s My Silver Lining has been consistent in long-distance chases all season, winning the Classic Chase at Warwick.

“She seems in great order. I was sort of looking for reasons not to go – was she flat, or was the ground not soft enough, or whatever, and none of the reasons came,” said Lavelle.

“I’m really happy with her, of course it’s a competitive race and with the championship the way it is, it’s probably more competitive than some years, but she’s really well, she’s as honest as they come, she’ll keep galloping and jumping and we’re just hopeful that she’ll put up another personal best.”

The last time Willie Mullins had a chance of winning the British trainers’ title, Paul Nicholls landed the Coral Scottish Grand National with Vicente before going on to secure top spot in the table at Sandown.

This time around, the all-conquering Mullins is throwing everything at it, with 18 runners on the big card at Ayr on Saturday, as he attempts to emulate the legendary Vincent O’Brien, something the Closutton handler’s son and assistant Patrick acknowledges would be “incredibly special”.

While the victory of I Am Maximus in the Grand National at Aintree put Mullins in the driving seat, the team are taking nothing for granted, based on what happened in 2016.

This year, they are involved in a three-way battle with Dan Skelton joining the fray, and Mullins jnr thinks if any of the three manage to win either the National or the Scottish Champion Hurdle this weekend, it will go a long way to deciding the outcome.

“We find ourselves in a position we weren’t particularly expecting, so we’re going to be putting everything we can towards it now,” he said.

“It’s 70-odd years since Vincent O’Brien was the only Irish trainer to win the British jumps title, so to emulate him would be something that would be incredibly special.

“In 2016, we actually came into this weekend ahead as well, I think, but Paul Nicholls pulled a rabbit out of the hat and won the Scottish National with Vicente at 14-1 and that was the difference in the end.”

Despite Mullins’ total dominance over the National Hunt scene, his victory last weekend was only his second Grand National, 19 years after Hedgehunter provided him with his first.

“There were a few sore heads on Wednesday after the (homecoming) parade, but you have to celebrate the good days,” Mullins told a Zoom call organised by Ayr Racecourse.

“It was 19 years since we won the Grand National and to win a second is great. We had seven runners, but if I Am Maximus had come down, we wouldn’t have had any in the first six, so you need a bit of luck. I wasn’t sure if he’d adapt to the course, but he did very well.

“We’ve celebrated but we’re back on track now and focussed on Ayr, trying to bring home some sterling.”

There has never been an Irish-trained Scottish National winner since the race moved from Bogside to Ayr and Mullins has never had a winner at the track either.

He went on: “It’s an incredible statistic. I can’t wait to come over to Ayr, it always looks a brilliant crowd for the big racedays there.

“Every year, I watch the Scottish National and it looks a fantastic race with a huge crowd, we’re very excited to be coming over and hopefully we can break one, if not two of those statistics.

“We’ll be stopping off in Perth and one or two other places during the week before Sandown.

“I think Saturday will be a pivotal day. I keep thinking back to 2016 when Paul won the National. If we can get out of Ayr still ahead, that is going to be huge for us.

“If Paul or Dan win the Champion Hurdle or the National, that’s going to make it squeaky bum time as such, but if we can get out ahead, that will be huge.”

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