EPL

Arteta expects 'twists' in top-four race with rivals Tottenham

By Sports Desk April 15, 2022

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta expects more "twists" as the Gunners fight with north London rivals Tottenham for Champions League qualification.

Arteta's side seemingly turned a corner in 2022 as they surged to fourth in the Premier League, but consecutive losses against Crystal Palace and Brighton and Hove Albion have handed the advantage to Spurs.

Antonio Conte's team sit three points ahead of fifth-placed Arsenal, who have played a game fewer, as the pair contest alongside West Ham for a place in England's top four.

But Arteta, speaking ahead of the clash with Southampton on Saturday, insists there should be more changes and drama expected as the season heads towards its conclusion.

Asked who was in control of the top-four push, he responded on Friday: "Whoever manages to win more games and play better.

"There's going to be some twists still for sure and the pressure and situation is going to keep changing between now and the end of the season. We have to be focused on us and what we have to do.

"Every game [is important], but obviously when you lose, the next game takes more importance and we know that."

Arsenal are set to visit Tottenham in the penultimate week of the season in what is being billed as a decider for the final Champions League spot, but Arteta does not feel more pressure despite the rivalry.

"I think it's related to our history and we want to be not fourth, but third, second or first, and that's what we have to do," he added.

"That's always within every supporter and anybody who has any connection with the club, so the moment you see the team doing better and having better aspirations, your tendency is to get excited about it and I think that's the right reaction."

Arsenal began their 2021-22 campaign with three consecutive league losses in August, and defeat at Southampton would reproduce the same unwanted feat.

Arteta's team are in much better stead now, but the Spaniard dismissed suggestions that the Gunners would have settled for fifth in the Premier League after their abject start.

"At the start of the season? You cannot take anything because you don't know how things are going to develop," he continued.

"You could ask me a week into the season or two weeks before, I could maybe give you a different answer, but no, no."

Alexandre Lacazette has not scored from open play in the league since a strike in December against Southampton, who he has been involved in seven goals in six top-flight appearances against.

Reports suggest Lacazette missed training in midweek, but Arteta assured there is a "good possibility" he will play, while he hailed Bukayo Saka, who is the only English player to have registered both 50-plus shots and 50 or more chances created in the competition this term.

"He's a great kid, and he has a really clear idea of what he needs to expect," he said of the England international. "The better he does, the more difficult they are going to try and make it for him, that's for sure.

"I think he needs the protection that all the players need at this level, nothing different, nothing special.

"The best players and the talented players are always going to be, closely looked at, and they are going to close the space and they are going to be tight on them.

"Bukayo has to recognise that is going to be the case. Referees have to recognise that as well, early in the game, and then try to protect them."

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  • Police hope for better treatment of fans as report highlights ‘hostile’ approach Police hope for better treatment of fans as report highlights ‘hostile’ approach

    Police hope a new report detailing recent supporter experiences will lead to better treatment of fans of English clubs playing away in Europe.

    The UK Football Policing Unit (UKFPU) has co-ordinated a survey gathering feedback of fan groups from English teams who have played in European competition since the 2020-21 season.

    It comes after the last two Champions League finals, in Paris in 2022 and Istanbul in 2023, saw Liverpool and then Manchester City supporters endure considerable issues.

    The report includes details of problems experienced by Manchester United supporters who travelled for the Champions League group match at Galatasaray this season, and also says “the consistent feedback of fans is that the policing style in Spain is confrontational, frequently aggressive and on occasions violent”.

    The UKFPU will now use the data to work with fans, UEFA and host countries to address the issues raised.

    Chief Constable Mark Roberts, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for football policing, said: “Following the events of the 2022 Champions League final in Paris and the mistreatment of Liverpool fans, it was hoped that the reviews and outcry would mark a watershed in the experience of English supporters following their teams in Europe.

    “Subsequent events, in particular the arrangements for Manchester City supporters attending the 2023 Champions League final in Istanbul, suggested this wasn’t the case and that lessons were not being learned.

    “The aim of this survey is to get more detailed evidence of the issues fans are experiencing when travelling to European away matches, and to help find a way to solve these.

    “There has been a lot of positive feedback, but we can see from the data some specific issues which are being experienced at certain clubs and in certain countries.

    “It is hoped we can use these results to work collaboratively and create a safer and more welcoming experience for supporters following their teams.

    “We have the support of UEFA. This has been circulated to all the European police forces, I’ve written to them all saying these are the findings, encouraging them to look at it and where necessary adapt. I’ve also invited feedback from them about how the experience is for fans in England.

    “Then we’re going to ask fans to give us reports on an ongoing basis to either confirm the problem is still there or hopefully recognise that people have listened and there is an improvement.

    “We’re not doing it to knock people or try to fall out with people. We’re being honest, but the aim is that it’s a platform for us to then build and get better treatment for our fans abroad.”

    A comment in the report from United fans on the Galatasaray match in November described it as “one of the worst experiences in years….a shambles…the epitome of a disgrace”.

    The fans comment said there had been a “complete breakdown of access into the stadium with dangerous overcrowding”, some supporters taking two hours to get in and missing the opening 30 minutes, inappropriate seizure of personal items and a hold back of more than 80 minutes, with public transport then closed by the time fans had been released and got back to the city.

    Among the issues in Spain highlighted, policing at Real Madrid was described as “incredibly hostile” by Chelsea fans in relation to last term’s quarter-final – where the overall experience was labelled “a disgrace of the highest order” – and as “confrontational” by City supporters, regarding the 2021-22 semi-final.

    A comment from United fans on playing Villarreal away in 2021-22 said there had been “the most overzealous and aggressive policing I have seen” with “multiple examples of fans being assaulted and struck with batons for no valid reason”.

    While there were also various issues outlined by fans of different clubs making trips to face teams in France and Italy, the report said the overall feedback about event management in Germany was “overwhelmingly positive”.

  • ‘Moment of quality’ lacking for Stockport – Dave Challinor ‘Moment of quality’ lacking for Stockport – Dave Challinor

    Stockport manager Dave Challinor believes that his team 0-0 are lacking a “moment of quality” following their 0-0 draw with Gillingham in League Two on Tuesday night.

    The league leaders came to Gillingham after sustaining back-to-back losses at the hands of Crewe and Tranmere.

    Struggling in both defence and attack in recent weeks, Challinor is hopeful that keeping a clean sheet against Gillingham can renew confidence for his team after conceding seven goals in their previous two outings.

    Having scored only once in three games since their 3-1 win over Grimsby at the start of February, Challinor’s next hope for his side is that they rediscover their touch in front of goal as they look to confirm automatic promotion to League One by the end of the season.

    Challinor said: “After the last two games, we got back to where we were defensively and I thought we were really good there today.

    “I’ve been critical of the team and they’ve been critical of themselves at times; we’ve got to be better and we were tonight and that gives us a platform to go on and get a result. If you’re not going to defend properly and to the level consistently then you’re going to struggle to win games.

    “Before the game, would I have taken the point? No because I want to win, but will I have taken a clean sheet as a minimum? Absolutely.

    “We needed to find that moment of quality. In fact, we found moments of quality but not moments of quality that gets us the goal, if that would have been the case it would have been the perfect away performance, but we’ll take that point.”

    Each team had their chances at Priestfield Stadium but neither team were able to find the cutting edge to end the encounter with three points in hand.

    Stockport did have a late opportunity to return to the north-west as winners, although Paddy Madden’s shot was blocked by Gills defender Shadrach Ogie.

    A point has now put Challinor’s team two points ahead of second-place Mansfield, who have a game in hand and will welcome Salford to One Call Stadium this Saturday.

    Thanks to Crawley beating AFC Wimbledon 1-0, Gillingham have now moved to eighth in League Two and are level on points with Harrogate, with only goal difference separating Stephen Clemence’s team from a playoff berth.

    Clemence said, in a video interview posted by Gillingham on X: “It’s a very difficult game, they’re the top scorers in the division so we knew we had to be spot on defensively.

    “They tested us at times but I don’t think they threatened us too much – one or two shots, and they hit the post with a wide free-kick that was probably a cross.

    “Defensively we were very, very sound and we had to work hard for the clean sheet so I’m really proud of the boys’ efforts tonight.

    “Yeah, we didn’t create enough ourselves, but we were better in the second half than the first and that’s a good point there today.”

  • Strike duo Jamille Matt and Josh Gordon earn praise from Walsall boss Mat Sadler Strike duo Jamille Matt and Josh Gordon earn praise from Walsall boss Mat Sadler

    Strike partners Jamille Matt and Josh Gordon earned praise from Walsall manager Mat Sadler as the ruthless side beat Morecambe with a 3-0 League Two win.

    The score did not tell the whole story with the Saddlers having to withstand plenty of pressure to move to within three points of the play-off places – despite remaining in 16th place.

    Sadler said: “I thought Jamille and Josh up front were awesome and they beat them up. That was how I saw the game.

    “I think by the 60 to 75-minute mark, they wanted no more of what they were offering and that was top centre-forward work from those guys, they brought everyone else into the game.

    “Jamille and Josh did so much work off the ball. That is what’s brilliant about having those two working together because they understand the game.

    “It was a brilliant performance from front to back and we have got a bit of momentum.

    “I faced Jamille on numerous occasions as a player so I know what he is like and it wasn’t very pleasant. He is so strong and mobile.”

    Walsall almost led when Isaac Hutchinson’s rising drive had to be tipped over by Archie Mair at the near post and the deadlock was broken from the corner that followed.

    Hutchinson showing clever footwork before finding Ross Tierney to thump the ball low into the bottom corner in the 13th minute.

    It was 2-0 when Matt’s colossal leap flicked Gordon into space in the right of the box to cut back from a tight spot for Matt to force inside the far post in the 26th minute.

    Morecambe built more pressure early in the second half but the game was up when substitute Jack Earing found Matt to nudge the ball against the post, with on-loan Norwich defender Emmanuel Adegboyega slamming home the rebound in the 66th minute.

    Sadler was pleased with the clean sheet, adding: “Clearly the squad is stretched and we had a back three which hadn’t played together all season but I thought they were brilliant from start to finish.

    “Most importantly, that desire to want to keep a clean sheet was evident throughout.”

    Opposite number Ged Brannan argued Morecambe had been the better side but also architects of their own downfall.

    “We played some good football but we can’t concede two goals like we did in the first half,” he said.

    “We dominated play without really hurting them, then we got two crosses in like that and we didn’t pick up. It is hard to swallow.

    “We’re a good team. We were better than Walsall tonight, they sat in and counterattacked us and could afford to do that being two goals up.

    “We believed in ourselves and tried to get a goal but it didn’t fall for us.”

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