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 simply would not allow any post-Rennes gloominess to cloud Arsenal’s preparations for Sunday’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, and 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.’”
They certainly can do it on Sunday, despite Manchester United’s formidable form under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. 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 season, and they are hardly lacking for motivation in this potentially season-defining fortnight.
If Arsenal lose 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. Win against United, though, and a place in the Premier League’s top four is arguably theirs for the taking.