Emery calls for positive vibes ahead of key clash
Thursday's trip to France may have been a chastening experience for Arsenal, but there was to be no sulking at the club's training ground over the past two days. Unai Emery places great importance on the "spirit" of his team and the "energy" of his players, and he would not allow any post-Rennes gloominess to cloud his team's preparations for today's crucial meeting with Manchester United.
Emery demands positivity, so those deemed too miserable for his liking were given short shrift as Arsenal's focus shifted away from their Europa League disappointment and back to the race for the top four.
"This morning, I was speaking with some players," Emery said on Friday. "I want the players to help me with big positive energy.
"One player was worse than me, more down than me. I said to him, 'Let's speak tomorrow as you are more sad than me'. I want to listen to players with positive energy. I want to hear them say, 'We can do it on Sunday'."
Arsenal are in dangerous form at the Emirates, where they have not lost in the Premier League since defeat by Manchester City on the opening day of the campaign, and are hardly lacking for motivation in this potentially season-defining fortnight.
If Arsenal lose today and fail to turn around the 3-1 deficit against Rennes on Thursday, the obituaries of their campaign will be almost ready for publication. A return to the Champions League, the ultimate goal, would be slipping rapidly out of their grasp. Beat United, though, and a place in the Premier League's top four is arguably theirs for the taking.
Victory would take Emery's side two points clear of United with a more favourable run-in. They do not face any of the "big six" again, while United meet both City and Chelsea within four days at the end of next month.
"Our target is to play in the Champions League, and we know it is not easy," said Emery. "We have two possibilities even if we know it is going to be difficult. The players are optimists. We can come with positive spirit and do it. I want to find positive energy.
"We know United are doing very well. "The most important is our capacity to react [to the Rennes defeat]. First, it will be mostly our supporters and stadium, creating together a big atmosphere."
League victories over Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at the Emirates provide the blueprint for Arsenal, who will be without the suspended Lucas Torreira but will have Alexandre Lacazette back from suspension. It will no doubt be the high-intensity, pressing football that Emery likes.
The concern will be the way that United bypassed the Arsenal traps in their FA Cup meeting in January as they counter-attacked their way to a 3-1 victory.
United will also be buoyed - if a little fatigued - by their midweek heroics against Paris Saint-Germain. That win will have reminded Arsenal of the joys of participating in Europe's premier competition. That is where Emery has been tasked with taking them. "It is a big opportunity," he said of today's game.