Roma are ready to step up to the challenge of taking on Manchester United in the semi-finals of the Europa League despite an unconvincing display against Ajax.

Serie A side Roma reached just their second Europa League/UEFA Cup semi-final with a 1-1 draw at home to Ajax on Thursday.

That result was enough to advance 3-2 on aggregate following an away win in the first leg, but Roma were made to work by the Eredivisie giants, who dominated 71.7 per cent of the possession.

Roma trailed to Brian Brobbey's second-half strike, although Edin Dzeko eased nerves slightly in the Stadio Olimpico with his equaliser 18 minutes from time.

Roma captain Lorenzo Pellegrini told Sky Sport: "We showed tonight that we're growing. We're happy but we can't get too euphoric; this is only the semi-final.

"We want to play three more games in this competition - we'll have to improve in order to do so.

"Now we face Manchester United. We realise that if we want to do something great, we have to beat those who are great."

Pellegrini has the Roma armband after Dzeko's row with head coach Paulo Fonseca saw him stripped of the captaincy.

Dzeko at least has his place back, though, and he became the fourth player to score 30 European goals for the same Italian club, following in the footsteps of Alessandro Del Piero (at Juventus) and Filippo Inzaghi and Andriy Shevchenko (both at Milan).

The Bosnian striker netted with his only shot on target and created a further chance for Pellegrini, who led Roma in attempts (three) and key passes (two).

"There have been many ups and downs," Dzeko said. "This season wasn't my best on a personal level for many reasons.

"I don't like looking at the past; what happened has happened, we have to look to the future.

"There are many players here playing their first semi-final and we've got to enjoy it, because playing at Old Trafford doesn't happen every day."

Dzeko at least has some experience of the Old Trafford arena, having won on two of his three Premier League trips as a Manchester City player.

Indeed, the 35-year-old scored four league goals away to United, as well as providing two assists.

Now, Dzeko will return to Manchester with Roma, believing his current side have nothing to fear against the tournament favourites.

"If we're in the semi-final, then of course we can [be at the same level]," he said. "It certainly hasn't been an easy path, as Braga, Shakhtar Donetsk and Ajax were basically the toughest draws we could get.

"Now we are facing another big name, but Roma are a big name, too, and we must give everything to reach the final."

Mikel Arteta was delighted with Arsenal's clinical victory over Slavia Prague but has warned his side face a tough test against former boss Unai Emery's Villarreal in the Europa League semi-finals.

The Gunners entered Thursday's quarter-final second leg with the tie delicately poised at 1-1, but they produced one of their best displays under Arteta to win 4-0 at Sinobo Stadium and advance 5-1 on aggregate.

Nicolas Pepe added to his first-leg strike by opening the scoring in the Czech capital, setting Arsenal on their way to a straightforward win as an Alexandre Lacazette penalty and long-range Bukayo Saka strike followed inside the first 24 minutes.

Lacazette rounded off the scoring in the second half to confirm a semi-final tie with Villarreal - 3-1 aggregate winners over Dinamo Zagreb - and a reunion with Emery, who was sacked by Arsenal in November 2019 and replaced by Arteta.

Emery has previously won the Europa League three times with Sevilla, while also losing the 2018-19 final against Chelsea during his time at Arsenal, and Arteta is aware of the size of the task now facing his side over two legs.

"It will be really tough and Unai Emery is probably the most successful manager in this competition," he told BT Sport. "There is still a lot to do and things we can improve on, but we have a real desire to improve and be better every day."

Arsenal are effectively relying on the Europa League to salvage their campaign and secure a place in Europe next season, the Gunners sitting ninth in the Premier League with seven games to play.

Arteta was particularly pleased with the way his side responded to having an Emile Smith Rowe goal chalked off at 0-0 on the day as his side held on for back-to-back clean sheets, and a first shutout in eight European games

"We started really well in a convincing way, aggressive in our high press," he said. "We looked a threat all the time. 

"I really like the reaction of the team to the goal being disallowed. We scored some great goals. The clean sheet is important as well, the second one in two games.

"It helped the way we played against Sheffield United. The players were in high confidence, when performances are so high the collective improves. The boys were really at it from the start.

"It is a really important win in a crucial moment. We won in a convincing way, so credit to the players."

Smith Rowe may have been denied a goal by VAR, but he set up Pepe for the opener - his seventh assist in all competitions this season, which is the joint-most of any Arsenal player alongside Willian.

With his strike later in the first half, meanwhile, Saka became Arsenal's joint-top teenage scorer in major European competition, matching the four goals scored by Charlie George and Ray Kennedy.

"For me it's a joy to watch them play to watch them every day in training," Arteta said at his post-match news conference when asked about the young pair's performance. "The passion and the commitment they have for the club is special.

"I'm really happy with all of the players. We came to a tough place to face a team that hasn't lost at home in almost two years.

"I think when we demanded efficiency from them and today is a good example of the efficiency you need in Europe to win matches."

Saka, who now has seven goals to his name in all competitions this season, added to BT Sport: "It shows everyone how exciting we can be. When we play like this it is so amazing to be involved in. 

"We have a chance of going to the final and winning this competition - now it is up to us. We look forward to the next opponent."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer conceded it was not worth the risk for him to keep Paul Pogba on the field as Manchester United ran out comfortable winners over Granada en route to the Europa League semi-finals, a move which the midfielder agreed with.

United booked their place in the Europa League semis with a 2-0 win on Thursday, sealing a 4-0 aggregate victory over the Spanish side.

Edinson Cavani scored his 50th European goal – his first for United in Europe – before Jesus Vallejo headed into his own net in the closing stages as the Red Devils set up a showdown with Roma.

United have sealed their place in the semi-finals of a European competition for the 18th time in total, with Liverpool (19) the only English club to have managed more in that regard.

Pogba, however, was taken off at half-time during the contest. He teed up Cavani's opener with a clever flick, but received a yellow card shortly after and committed a total of three fouls, including one on Yangel Herrera which resulted in Granada's players crowding the referee demanding a second booking.

Solskjaer was left reeling after deciding not to take Fred off while the midfielder was on a booking in a Champions League defeat to Paris Saint-Germain in December, only for the Brazilian to then see red, and took no chances on this occasion.

He told BT Sport: "I think sometimes in a game, Paul wants to win so much, he went into a couple of tackles after his yellow card, I thought no, I don't want to risk that. Even though he played well.

"We missed three [players] today, the season's been hard enough as it is anyway."

For his part, Pogba had no issue with the reason for his substitution.

"Some tackles, a yellow card. I had to come off obviously," he told BT Sport. "The yellow card was unfortunate. It wasn't a yellow card for me but you have to accept it. We won the game, that's the most important thing.

"I know the foul just after it, I saw all the players trying to get me out. [The manager thought] It's better I come off before red card."

Solskjaer also suggested United created their own problems to an extent, saying: "[Granada] do give you a game, a physical game. You do have to defend.

"When you can't keep the ball as long as you should do, it's more difficult."

Serie A side Roma – boasting former United players Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Chris Smalling – await in the final four after they overcome Ajax in the quarter-finals.

"I've not seen too much of Roma," Solskjaer continued. "They've had two good games against Ajax, they defend well, as Italian teams always do, experienced team, and we all know [Edin] Dzeko, so any ball in the box is a dangerous one.

"We're looking forward to it of course, we're in the semi-final, it feels like a proper European tie, Roma is a club with lots of tradition, history, but we've done well against Italian teams."

United reached the semi-finals last season, only to lose to Sevilla.

They have reached four semis previously under Solskjaer, twice in the EFL Cup, once in the FA Cup and once in the Europa League, though they are yet to win a trophy during the Norwegian's tenure.

"I don't think there's any," Solskjaer responded when asked if his team were scarred by previous defeats.

"You just go into every game wanting to win. We're going into them hoping to get to the final. If we can finish this season with a final and a trophy, great."

Unai Emery will face former employers Arsenal in the Europa League semi-finals after his Villarreal side eased past Dinamo Zagreb, with a 2-1 result at home clinching a 3-1 aggregate triumph.  

Gerard Moreno's penalty in the first leg gave the LaLiga side a slender advantage and the in-form striker was on target again on Thursday, taking his tally for the season in all competitions to 25.

Paco Alcacer scored the opener as Villarreal made it eight successive wins in the competition - they will host the Gunners in the first leg on April 29, with the return fixture a week later.

Zagreb had stunned Tottenham with a second-leg comeback in the previous round and while Mislav Orsic did pull a goal back, the Croatian champions saw their involvement in the tournament come to an end.

Villarreal had already seen Samuel Chukwueze clatter a left-footed volley against the post before eventually opening the scoring in the 36th minute.

Alcacer rewarded the home team's dominance with a tap-in finish, though the goal was only awarded after the involvement of the video assistant referee as Chukwueze - who squared the ball for his team-mate to score - had initially been ruled offside.

Moreno added a second prior to the half-time interval, quickly reacting to a sharp save by Dinamo goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic to impressively convert the rebound on the turn.

Orsic - Dinamo's hat-trick hero against Spurs - had twice gone close before eventually beating Geronimo Rulli, slotting home on the angle after exchanging passes with Bruno Petkovic.

However, it was Villarreal went the closest to scoring again, Chukwueze striking the woodwork for a second time before Livakovic denied him a goal his performance deserved with a superb save.


What does it mean? Emery gets Gunners reunion

Villarreal have never made it to a final in a major European competition but Emery is the ideal man to see them end that wait.

The Spaniard lifted the Europa League trophy three times while in charge of Sevilla, plus also made the final in 2019 with Arsenal – a game that ended in a 4-1 defeat to London rivals Chelsea in Baku.

Emery was sacked by the Gunners in November of that year following a seven-game winless run. In contrast, he is set to make a return to Emirates Stadium with his current team in fine form.

Dinamo undone by Moreno

Moreno has now scored nine times in his past seven outings, a red-hot run that includes a goal for Spain against Kosovo. Only Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski have been involved in more goals in all competitions in 2021 than the former Espanyol forward (17 goals and six assists) in the top five European leagues.

Chukwueze stars for hosts

Alcacer and Moreno scored but Chukwueze was Villarreal’s star performer. The only thing missing was a goal, though it was not for a lack of trying – he had six shots, albeit only two were on target.

What's next?

Villarreal - who sit seventh in the LaLiga table, just a point behind fifth-placed Real Sociedad - travel to Levante on Sunday, while Dinamo host Istra 1961 in domestic action on the same day.

Roma survived a second-leg scare in their Europa League quarter-final against Ajax, advancing 3-2 on aggregate after a scarcely deserved 1-1 home draw.

The last remaining Serie A representatives in European competition this season held a commanding position heading into the return fixture, having won 2-1 in Amsterdam a week earlier.

But Roma largely lacked ambition at the Stadio Olimpico and invited Ajax to chase the two away goals they required, the first arriving when substitute Brian Brobbey beat Pau Lopez four minutes after half-time.

A second soon after was disallowed, though, and Edin Dzeko struck to restore parity on the night and set up a semi-final against Manchester United.

Roma might have quickly taken the tie away from Ajax when Lorenzo Pellegrini ran from halfway following Dzeko's pass and easily skipped past Sean Klaiber, only to send a tame shot into the hands of Maarten Stekelenburg.

Jordan Veretout then had the ball in the net but was flagged offside, before Ajax secured a foothold with the help of some nervy Roma goalkeeping.

Lopez's kick was intercepted by Antony, who teed up Davy Klaassen for an effort that was well blocked by Amadou Diawara. From a similar position, Dusan Tadic shot too close to the keeper.

Lopez was punished for his next mistake, as he was beaten to Perr Schuurs' long and searching pass by Brobbey, who smartly knocked the ball beyond the Spain international into an open goal.

Only a VAR review denied Ajax a swift second, with a foul on Henrikh Mkhitaryan identified before Lopez parried Brobbey's shot straight to Tadic for a simple finish.

But Roma belatedly responded and Ryan Gravenberch inadvertently deflected Riccardo Calafiori's cross into the path of Dzeko, who made no mistake.

Unai Emery will face former employers Arsenal in the Europa League semi-finals after his Villarreal side eased past Dinamo Zagreb, with a 2-1 result at home clinching a 3-1 aggregate triumph.  

Gerard Moreno's penalty in the first leg gave the LaLiga side a slender advantage and the in-form striker was on target again on Thursday, taking his tally for the season in all competitions to 25.

Paco Alcacer scored the opener as Villarreal made it eight successive wins in the competition - they will host the Gunners in the first leg on April 29, with the return fixture a week later.

Zagreb had stunned Tottenham with a second-leg comeback in the previous round and while Mislav Orsic did pull a goal back, the Croatian champions saw their involvement in the tournament come to an end.

Villarreal had already seen Samuel Chukwueze clatter a left-footed volley against the post before eventually opening the scoring in the 36th minute.

Alcacer rewarded the home team's dominance with a tap-in finish, though the goal was only awarded after the involvement of the video assistant referee as Chukwueze - who squared the ball for his team-mate to score - had initially been ruled offside.

Moreno added a second prior to the half-time interval, quickly reacting to a sharp save by Dinamo goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic to impressively convert the rebound on the turn.

Orsic - Dinamo's hat-trick hero against Spurs - had twice gone close before eventually beating Geronimo Rulli, slotting home on the angle after exchanging passes with Bruno Petkovic.

However, it was Villarreal went the closest to scoring again, Chukwueze striking the woodwork for a second time before Livakovic denied him a goal his performance deserved with a superb save.


What does it mean? Emery gets Gunners reunion

Villarreal have never made it to a final in a major European competition but Emery is the ideal man to see them end that wait.

The Spaniard lifted the Europa League trophy three times while in charge of Sevilla, plus also made the final in 2019 with Arsenal – a game that ended in a 4-1 defeat to London rivals Chelsea in Baku.

Emery was sacked by the Gunners in November of that year following a seven-game winless run. In contrast, he is set to make a return to Emirates Stadium with his current team in fine form.

Dinamo undone by Moreno

Moreno has now scored nine times in his past seven outings, a red-hot run that includes a goal for Spain against Kosovo. Only Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski have been involved in more goals in all competitions in 2021 than the former Espanyol forward (17 goals and six assists) in the top five European leagues.

Chukwueze stars for hosts

Alcacer and Moreno scored but Chukwueze was Villarreal’s star performer. The only thing missing was a goal, though it was not for a lack of trying – he had six shots, albeit only two were on target.

What's next?

Villarreal - who sit seventh in the LaLiga table, just a point behind fifth-placed Real Sociedad - travel to Levante on Sunday, while Dinamo host Istra 1961 in domestic action on the same day.

Edinson Cavani scored his 50th goal in European competition as Manchester United saw off Granada 2-0 to claim a 4-0 aggregate win in the Europa League quarter-finals.

Cavani's milestone strike, and his first in Europe for United, was an expertly controlled volley into the bottom-right corner after six minutes at Old Trafford.

Yangel Herrera – on loan from United's rivals Manchester City – could have cancelled out United's lead on the night, while Cavani missed a great chance to add further gloss in the second half.

Donny van de Beek was then inches away from his first United goal since September, though the misses mattered little as United eventually got their second in the 90th minute, Jesus Vallejo heading into his own net as a semi-final clash with Roma was confirmed.

United wasted no time in extending their advantage in the tie – Cavani firing home from Paul Pogba's flick.

Herrera could have restored parity within two minutes, only to head wide from close range, and the Granada attacker squandered a similar opportunity in the 20th minute.

His second opportunity came from a free-kick conceded by Pogba, whose earlier booking for a foul on German Sanchez had made him something of a target for Granada, and the Frenchman was sensibly taken off at half-time.

Jorge Molina was the next to test United's resolve but headed straight at David de Gea, before Pogba's replacement Van de Beek centred for Mason Greenwood, who was unable to direct a looping header beyond Rui Silva.

Cavani could only get a shoulder to Bruno Fernandes' delightful cross, with Van de Beek then arrowing a foot wide from distance.

German dragged wide from inside United's area soon after – just another missed opportunity which Granada were left to rue as Vallejo's late own goal compounded their exit.

 

What does it mean? Liverpool's record in United's sight

United are into their 18th semi-final in all European competitions – only Liverpool (19) have appeared in more among English sides.

The Red Devils fell to eventual winners Sevilla at the last-four stage last season, and they will be determined to go one better against Roma, who just about overcame Ajax.

Half-century up for Cavani

Cavani has now scored in European competition for the 11th consecutive season, with this being his first goal in the Europa League since December 2012 (for Napoli v PSV).

It was a landmark 50th goal in UEFA competition for the striker and once again proved his importance to United as rumours circulate over his future.

No risks taken with Pogba

Perhaps scarred by the repercussions of not taking Fred off while on a booking as United suffered a damaging defeat to Paris Saint-Germain, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took no gamble with Pogba's ability to avoid a second yellow.

Pogba's flick-on for Cavani's strike was an exceptional one, and from a free role on the left the France star created two chances and registered 51 touches. However, he also conceded three fouls, and it was just not worth the risk to keep him on.

What's next?

United are at Old Trafford again on Sunday, hosting Burnley, while Granada are not back in LaLiga action until they face Eibar on April 22.

Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been in hospital this week after being diagnosed with malaria, he has announced.

The Gabon striker said he picked up the virus during the recent international break.

Aubameyang was absent as Arsenal travelled to face Slavia Prague in the Europa League on Thursday.

Manager Mikel Arteta said ahead of the game that Aubameyang was being monitored due to illness, and the player himself has now revealed he has been seriously unwell.

Aubameyang wrote on Instagram: "Hey guys, thanks for all the messages and calls. Unfortunately I contracted Malaria whilst being on national team duty in Gabon a few weeks ago.

"I've spent a few days in hospital this week but I'm already feeling much better every day, thanks to the great doctors that detected and treated the virus so quickly.

"I wasn't really feeling myself the last couple weeks but will be back stronger than ever soon! Will be watching my boys now, huge game for us! Let‘s go and get it @arsenal."

The 31-year-old posted a picture of himself, seemingly in a hospital bed and wearing a gown.

Aubameyang was used as a substitute in last Thursday's first leg of the quarter-final tie with Slavia, but he missed the 3-0 win at Sheffield United on Sunday.

He has not scored for Arsenal since the 1-1 draw with Burnley on March 6 in the Premier League.

Ondrej Kudela's 10-game UEFA ban for "racist behaviour" was designed to "fulfill the perverted expectations of a small group of activists," according to a senior politician in the Czech Republic. 

Slavia Prague's Kudela was sanctioned on Wednesday after initially receiving a one-match ban by UEFA's Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body for "insulting players or others present at the match" after an altercation with Rangers' Glen Kamara. 

Kudela and Slavia strenuously denied the accusations levelled by Kamara in March, with the Czech Republic international alleged to have made a racist comment while covering his mouth towards the end of an ill-tempered round-of-16 second leg that Rangers lost 2-0, eliminating them from the competition.

Slavia accused Kamara of attacking Kudela inside the stadium after the game and UEFA also took action against the Rangers midfielder, suspending him for three games. 

Vratislav Mynar, head of the office of the president of the Czech Republic, has responded furiously to Kudela's suspension, describing it as "the pinnacle of hypocrisy". 

"I note that racism is unproven and alleged," he wrote in an open letter to UEFA on the president of the Czech Republic's official website. 

"The UEFA inspector himself questioned that Ondrej Kudela had made a racist statement. Nevertheless, you have decided on a completely unprecedented punishment for a player who did not harm anyone and only verbally – according to his statement – offended his opponent. 

"You condemn a decent person without a single piece of evidence. All this just to fulfill the perverted expectations of a small group of activists and a club unable to win on the field, all the more so by shouting empty and hurtful phrases about racism.

"In your submission, the fight against racism has become the fight of the unsuccessful against the successful, the pinnacle of hypocrisy and positive discrimination.

"Your efforts can lead to the opposite; a situation where a person with a colour other than black will be discriminated against, oppressed and deprived of their rights. That is why I also consider it necessary to oppose this procedure."

Mynar also said Czech president, Milos Zeman, was aware of the incident and considers it to be an important issue of "human dignity".

"I very much appreciate the fact that the Czech public does not identify with your verdict, across the whole society." he added. "On the contrary, even if only for a short time, you have managed to unite ancient rivals. We will not kneel before you and no threats apply to the Czech football fan.

"The president of the Republic, Milos Zeman, is acquainted with the situation in detail and considers it important not only from the point of view of sport, but also from the point of view of justice and human dignity. 

"It expresses belonging to all citizens of the Czech Republic who follow this case and are disappointed during it. At the same time, he wishes all players and fans not to be discouraged by the whole affair and to continue to support their team so valiantly."

Slavia Prague's Ondrej Kudela has been hit with a 10-game UEFA ban for "racist behaviour" directed at Rangers' Glen Kamara, who has to serve a three-match suspension for assault.

Kudela was given an initial one-match ban by UEFA as the governing body opened proceedings against him last week, forcing him to miss Slavia's 1-1 draw at Arsenal in their quarter-final tie.

At the time, UEFA's Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body confirmed Kudela's suspension was relating to "insulting players or others present at the match".

Kudela and Slavia strenuously denied the initial accusations levelled by Kamara in March, with the Czech Republic international alleged to have made a racist comment while covering his mouth towards the end of an ill-tempered round-of-16 second leg that Rangers lost 2-0, eliminating them from the competition.

UEFA has sanctioned Kudela - who was described by Slavia as a "football gentleman" - following a full investigation.

A UEFA statement read: "Following an investigation conducted by a UEFA Ethics and Disciplinary Inspector regarding the incidents that occurred during the 2020-21 Europa League round of 16 second leg match between Rangers and Slavia Prague on March 18, 2021, and the subsequent proceedings opened against Mr. Ondrej Kudela and Mr. Glen Kamara, the UEFA Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body has taken the following decisions:

"To suspend Slavia Prague player, Mr. Ondrej Kudela, for the next 10 UEFA club and representative team competition matches for which he would otherwise be eligible to play, for racist behaviour, which includes the one-match provisional suspension served by the player during Slavia Prague's 2020-21 Europa League quarter-final first leg match against Arsenal on April 8, 2021."

Slavia accused Kamara of attacking Kudela inside the stadium after the game and UEFA has also taken action against the Rangers midfielder.

The statement continued: "To suspend Rangers player, Mr. Glen Kamara, for three UEFA club competition matches for which he would otherwise be eligible to play, for assaulting another player."

Kamara's Rangers team-mate Kemar Roofe has also been charged with assault by UEFA after a studs-up challenge on Slavia goalkeeper Ondrej Kolar, who suffered a fractured skull.

Roofe has been handed a four-game ban.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has offered a novel explanation for Manchester United's underwhelming home form this season – the players' jerseys are blending into the red canvas of banners and empty seats at Old Trafford.

United's form both at home and on the road have made for curious reading for much of the season – after all, their 6-1 defeat to Tottenham at Old Trafford in October was the Red Devils' joint-heaviest Premier League loss and saw them beaten in their opening two home games of a league campaign for the first time since 1986-87.

Yet, United have not lost a Premier League away game since January 19, 2020, winning 15 of those 23 matches on the road since.

Delving into the numbers a little more, United's 54.2 per cent win rate at home across all competitions this term is their second-worst record since the Premier League's inception in 1992 – only in 2018-19 (46.2 per cent) have they won a smaller percentage of their games at Old Trafford.

Conversely, their 65.4 per cent win rate on the road (17 victories in 26 matches) is better than they have ever managed in the same timeframe.

While many have put the drastic changes down to a lack of fans – so, less intimidating atmospheres away and reduced motivation at home – in stadiums, Solskjaer offered an alternative conclusion as he addressed the media ahead of Thursday's Europa League quarter-final second leg with Granada.

"You'll see a change now, the banners around the pitch, they're not red anymore," Solskjaer said when queried about why United failed to beat Real Sociedad and Milan at Old Trafford in the two previous rounds of the competition.

"We've looked into this and there shouldn't be any reason really, but some of the players have mentioned, that split-second decision you have to make – look over your shoulder if your team-mate is there or not – and the red shirt is on the red background with the red seats.

"So, we've tried to change that, along with the anti-racism campaign [banner], so of course it was important that wasn't red anymore.

"Then again, there shouldn't be any reason, but if you've got a 4-0 advantage [in the Real Sociedad tie] you don't really have to win that game [second leg at home], 0-0 was a good result.

"Then the first game against Milan, that's still a draw, we conceded in the last minute. I still think we've played some good football at home.

"We started off badly with three defeats to Palace, Tottenham and Arsenal early on, so we've improved."

United host Granada having won 2-0 in Spain a week earlier, and it is just as well they are in such a commanding position given the depleted nature of Solskjaer's squad.

Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay are all suspended, while Eric Bailly remains absent having contracted coronavirus and Marcus Rashford is reportedly a doubt after missing training on Wednesday.

An experimental, and potentially inexperienced, starting XI could be named, with Solskjaer confirming Axel Tuanzebe is set for a rare game at centre-back.

"I don't think it affected him," Solskjaer said when asked if Tuanzebe's confidence had been damaged after being targeted with online abuse.

"Axel has always been a very positive and hard-working boy. Victor and Harry have formed a very good partnership, so his chances have been limited. He is ready for this opportunity."

Regarding any hints of complacency, Solskjaer added: "We have got a great foundation, but we have to win. They will give everything they have got.

"Momentum is big in football. We have to make sure we go through, I always pick a team I think will win a game.

"We will go into the game wanting to win this. We want to improve our performances.

"It is a quarter-final in Europe, they need to score goals. We have seen them against Barcelona, Real Madrid how dangerous they can be. We have to play a good game and not give them those opportunities."

Arsenal youngster Folarin Balogun is "very close" to signing a new contract, according to manager Mikel Arteta.

The 19-year-old England youth international had looked likely to leave the Gunners at the end of the season on a free transfer after struggling to break into the senior squad on a regular basis.

However, talks over a new deal appear to have progressed well and Arteta believes the player will commit his future to the north London club.

Speaking on Wednesday, he said: "We are going to make it official when it is official and everything is done, but as I said before, I have always been very positive that he wants to stay at the club. We want him to stay at the club. We are very close."

Balogun has scored 55 goals in 78 appearances for Arsenal in youth-league competition and netted for the senior side in Europa League group-stage wins over Molde and Dundalk.

Arteta now wants to explore why he was considering pursuing his career elsewhere.

"First of all, I have just been trying to understand why he got to the point that he was really thinking about leaving the football club after being raised here and the feelings that he has got towards the club," he said.

"Once you understand the position of him, then [you] try to explain what you want to do, how involved he is going to be in the project and how. Then get the full commitment and support from the club, and [technical director] Edu, who I think has done an incredible job as well."

On the pitch, Arsenal's focus is now on Thursday's Europa League quarter-final second leg against Slavia Prague, who scored an injury-time equaliser to force a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture.

Given they are ninth in the Premier League table, their best hope of returning to Europe next season would appear to be through winning the Europa League this term.

Goalkeeper Bernd Leno admits it is difficult to conceive of a club of Arsenal's size missing out on continental competition entirely.

"You could see after the game how disappointed we've been. But it's still half-time. You could see how big this game was for us, and tomorrow even more," he said.

"When you think about the future without Arsenal in European competition, it doesn't feel right. Our job is to make sure it doesn't come true. Arsenal belong to Europe, and that's our target.

"It's never easy when you change the defence all the time, but it's not an excuse. We have so many games, we have to rotate, we had some injuries. The other teams also changed their defensive line.

"Everybody knows what to do. We have a big squad, good quality. It's not only the defence and the relationship with the goalkeeper; it's the whole team that defends the goal."

Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe will be available for Arsenal for their Europa League quarter-final second leg against Slavia Prague.

Saka has been struggling with a thigh problem and was taken off in the second half of the Gunners' 3-0 Premier League win at Sheffield United on Sunday.

Smith Rowe missed that match at Bramall Lane after spraining his ankle in the 1-1 first-leg draw with Slavia, but he and Saka have recovered fully for the return fixture at Sinobo Stadium.

Captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who also missed the win over the Blades due to illness, will be assessed ahead of the Slavia clash.

Martin Odegaard is also battling to be fit after injuring his ankle during the international break, but the match will come too soon for Kieran Tierney and David Luiz.

Mikel Arteta's side are bidding to reach the Europa League semi-finals for the third time in four seasons, although they have failed to progress from their previous three European knockout ties after drawing the first leg.

Mikel Arteta stood by his decision to drop Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for Arsenal's Europa League tie with Slavia Prague and backed his side to progress, despite a disappointing 1-1 draw in Thursday's quarter-final first leg.

Club captain Aubameyang was named among the substitutes on the back of Saturday's 3-0 loss to Liverpool and was not introduced until the 78th minute against Slavia with the game still goalless. 

The Gabon international made an impact by playing in Nicolas Pepe for Arsenal's opener eight minutes later - his 100th goal involvement for Arsenal in all competitions since joining from Borussia Dortmund in January 2018.

Arsenal failed to see out the victory on home soil, however, with Tomas Holes heading in a 93rd-minute equaliser that leaves the Gunners requiring at least one goal in next week's return leg in the Czech capital.

But despite Alexandre Lacazette missing a glorious chance when played clean through on goal and Bukayo Saka also failing to convert from a good position, Arteta felt he picked the right starting line-up against Slavia.

"I think the players I selected stepped in and gave absolutely everything," he said at his post-match news conference. "We managed the game really well. We were much more aggressive today and we created some big chances.

"When I made the substitutions I felt it was the right time to do so. Whether I should have done it earlier or not, who knows?"

Arteta confirmed ahead of the game that Aubameyang was left out for tactical reasons and he was pleased with the response shown by the striker, who has 14 goals in 33 appearances this season.

"When he came on he showed the right attitude," the Spaniard said. "I cannot talk with everybody individually every week, but we try to be as transparent as possible."

Holes' late leveller was his first goal in major European competition in his 14th such appearance and leaves Arsenal with work to do in what is a make-or-break clash in Prague next week.

Arsenal are now winless in four matches and have failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their last 14 games in all competitions, but Arteta has full confidence his side will reach the semi-finals for a third time in four seasons.

"I totally believe that we can go there and win the match," he told BT Sport. "We need to win the game. The mindset is to win the game. We need to score. We've done it before and we need to do it again."

Thursday's draw was the first time Arsenal have failed to beat a Czech side at home, but visiting boss Jindrich Trpisovsky accepted that Slavia had to ride their luck, even if they managed four attempts on target to their opponents' two.

"We weren't ourselves tonight. We gave them the ball very often without fight," Trpisovsky said. "We need to see how Arsenal will adapt to our pitch. Theirs is superb and ours is not so. Tonight, we were lucky. They had chances they didn't score.

"We made mistakes and kept losing the ball when we were in possession but then we were lucky with the corner and snatched the draw."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was proud of the battling qualities displayed by Marcus Rashford as he played through the pain to help Manchester United beat Granada.

Troubled by a niggling ankle problem, Rashford opened the scoring at the Nuevo Los Carmenes on Thursday, latching onto Victor Lindelof's long pass before finishing with composure.

The goal took Rashford to 20 for the season in all competitions, making him the first United player to hit double figures in consecutive campaigns since Wayne Rooney 11 years ago.

The England forward, who was taken off 10 minutes after scoring in last weekend's 2-1 Premier League win over Brighton and Hove Albion, battled on against Granada before being substituted with a little over 25 minutes left.

Solskjaer, who hopes Rashford will be fit to face Tottenham on Sunday, was delighted with Rashford's impact against stubborn opposition.

"Marcus, fantastic goal," he said. "Great pass by Victor, great run and the skill to bring the ball down like this, we've seen it a few times before, and it's a top, top quality goal.

"It's the same thing as before, he's not recovered from it. Hopefully, it's not got any worse from this. He lasted 60 or 70 against Brighton, 65 now, so hopefully he's ready. I think he should be ready for Sunday."

When asked if he ever told former manager Alex Ferguson he was fully fit to play when struggling with injury, Solskjaer replied: "Yeah, I probably did! I did a few times. It's not like I couldn't perform, but I probably knew I wasn't at 100 per cent. But when are you at 100 per cent as a footballer? I think that's very rare.

"We know he's someone we have to protect, and he was ready, and he was vital for us today."

While comfortable in defence, United offered little threat of a second goal until Bruno Fernandes scored his 19th penalty for the club after being pushed in the face by Yan Eteki.

The Portugal star, who was struggling with his vision in one eye after the foul, squeezed a shot beneath goalkeeper Rui Silva in the 90th minute.

With Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay suspended for the second leg after receiving yellow cards, Solskjaer was relieved to be heading back to Old Trafford with a more commanding advantage.

"It was an important goal, the second one. A 1-0 lead, losing three players, is not a good position to be in," he said.

"I don't think we deserved those five yellow cards, but that's happened. I'm delighted with the result, of course.

"[The second goal] is so vital away from home and we've created a good starting point for ourselves next week.

"Scoring with one eye is a skill! He drives the team and drives himself. He's got such enthusiasm and hunger to win and to do well. I've played in teams with a lot stronger personalities than that, to be honest.

"That's the way for us to improve and reach the next level: always demand more, and more, and more."

Shaw was taken off at half-time, but Solskjaer added of the left-back: "I had to protect Luke, but I think and hope he should be okay for the weekend."

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