Arsenal head coach Unai Emery has refused to follow some of his counterparts by suggesting the Premier League should do more to help English clubs in Europe. Both Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino and Chelsea’s Maurizio Sarri have called on the league to fall in line with much of the continent and assist teams playing in European competition and the fixture congestion it causes.
The Gunners face Rennes tonight in the first leg of their Europa League round of 16 tie. Though the game at the Roazhon Park is sandwiched between huge Premier League games — against Spurs and Manchester United — as the battle for a top-four finish hots up, Emery insists it cannot be used as a reason for any poor performances from Arsenal.
“It is not an excuse for us. We have the habit to play a lot of matches week by week,” he said.
“We played on Saturday, rested Sunday and started to work on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday and tomorrow I think we are going to be okay to play every player. For us, it is a very important match.
“I respect them, the Premier League, they decide the schedules for our matches and we adapted. Our adaptation is to prepare for the matches on the days we can have, but, above all, our habit is to play a lot of matches during the week, so it is no excuse.
You ask me if I prefer sometimes more time to prepare for one match, then yes, but in this match we don’t have an excuse.
"We had time to prepare for this match well, maybe we are going to play after on Sunday, but we have this habit and we have the players to share and find combinations with the players who can play tomorrow with a big performance, fresh players with a big energy.
“Then also on Sunday with some of the same players who play tomorrow and other fresh players can come in and get the best performance in two matches.”
Arsenal will be firm favourites heading into the clash with Rennes, who sit 10th in Ligue 1 and have never made it as far as the round of 16 in the Europa League.
If the French side are to spring a surprise, then much will rest on the performance of former Newcastle and Hull winger Hatem Ben Arfa.
He endured a tough time under Emery when the pair worked together at Paris St Germain and did not feature in a single competitive game for the club last season.
Ben Arfa then left at the end of his contract and moved to Rennes and, while Emery would not be drawn on his frayed relationship with the 31-year-old, he did suggest he is the danger man.
“He is a very good player,” Emery said.
“He is playing with a big performance and we know they have good organisation, good players and one is Ben Arfa. We need tomorrow to control his quality, his skills, because in the two matches they played against Betis he was playing very well, but it is not only Ben Arfa, they have good defensive players, but mostly Ben Arfa is very important for them.”
Arsenal will be without striker Alexandre Lacazette, as he serves the second game of a three-match ban following his red card against BATE Borisov in the last round. This means Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is likely to lead the line, despite his last-gasp penalty miss in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Tottenham.