Arsenal, Man Utd, Celtic target Europa League knockout berths
Last season’s Europa League finalists Arsenal and 2017 champions Manchester United can clinch places in the last 32 of the competition this week, while group leaders Celtic face a “titanic game” away to Lazio.
Arsenal has won just twice in nine Premier League outings but are chasing a fourth straight victory in Group F away to bottom side Vitoria Guimaraes on Wednesday.
Gunners boss Unai Emery has stripped Granit Xhaka of the captaincy in the wake of an emotional outburst towards supporters in last month’s draw at home to Crystal Palace.
“I was speaking with him this morning and I decided he’s not one of the captains in our group and I decided that and I told him this morning,” Emery said Tuesday. “He accepted my decision.”
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who wore the armband at the weekend against Wolves and will take over the role full-time, was also left out the travelling squad along with Mesut Ozil and David Luiz.
United can punch their ticket to the knockout phase on Thursday with another win over Partizan Belgrade, the Serbian side coached by former Aston Villa striker Savo Milosevic.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team registered a 1-0 win in Belgrade a fortnight ago and are one of just two clubs yet to concede a goal in the competition.
The Norwegian urged his United players to bounce back from Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Bournemouth that left them a dismal 10th in the table.
“You have got to react, you have got to recover,” said Solskjaer, who is still without Paul Pogba because of an ankle problem.
“We have two more games before the international break, we’ve got a chance on Thursday to qualify in Europe and then Brighton at home – so we need a response.”
Back-to-back home wins have fired Celtic top of Group E and the Scottish champions could qualify with three points in the Italian capital if Rennes fail to beat Cluj.
Neil Lennon’s side will make the trip full of confidence after setting up a League Cup final clash with Rangers following a 5-2 win over Hibernian.
“We know what a huge incentive it is to go to Rome and get a result, and off the back of the semi-final win and the feel-good factor, psychologically, the players will all be in a good place,” said Lennon.
“It’s a titanic game ahead of us, we know the calibre of opposition we’ve got on Thursday night in Lazio, but it’s not beyond us.”
Steven Gerrard’s Rangers face two-time European champions Porto at Ibrox knowing a victory would leave them well-positioned in Group G.
Wolves will look for a third consecutive win in Group K at home to Slovan Bratislava having recovered well from an opening loss in their first European campaign since 1980.
Record five-time winners Sevilla, who have maximum points and top Group A, will advance with victory away to Luxembourg’s Dudelange, while Roma travels to Borussia Moenchengladbach in Group J.
The two sides drew 1-1 in Italy a fortnight ago when Lars Stindl converted a contentious stoppage-time penalty for Gladbach.
Eintracht Frankfurt, who lost to eventual champions Chelsea on penalties in last season’s semi-finals, will look to keep the momentum going against Standard Liege after Saturday’s 5-1 demolition of Bayern Munich.
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