Stade Rennes FC vs Arsenal - Fixture congestion should not be used as an excuse

Posted Thursday, March 07, 2019 by PA

Stade Rennes FC vs Arsenal - Fixture congestion should not be used as an excuse

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 on Thursday night in the first leg of their Europa League round of 16 tie.

Although 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 for example 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.

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, meaning Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is likely to lead the line despite his last-gasp penalty miss in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Tottenham.

Rennes coach Julien Stephan has backed Hatem Ben Arfa to shine as he comes up against his former boss Emery.

Ben Arfa endured a tough time under the Spaniard when the pair worked together at Paris Saint Germain and did not feature in a single competitive game for the Ligue 1 side last season.

The 31-year-old left PSG at the end of his contract and moved to Rennes, where he has starred as part of a team which has gone further in the Europa League than any in the club’s history.

But Stephan is keen to keep focus on on-field matters when the Gunners visit Roazhon Park for the first leg of their round of 16 tie.

“It is a thing of the past,” Stephan said of the history between Ben Arfa and Emery at his pre-match press conference.

“Hatem has a lot of experience, he’ll be able to handle it in a very smart way. We did not need to talk about it together and there are plenty of other topics to talk about before talking about that.

“It is Stade Rennais against Arsenal in the Europa League, it is not Hatem against Emery. Champions are always present in this type of match and I’m sure Hatem will have a big game tomorrow.”

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