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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 April 2019

Al Nasr manager Benat San Jose 'very proud' to face Arsenal in official opening of Al Maktoum Stadium

Dubai club will take on their Premier League counterparts on Tuesday to celebrate the refurbishment of their ground

Al Nasr manager Benat San Jose says Tuesday’s high-profile friendly against Arsenal represents a proud moment in the club’s history – as he looks forward to pitting his wits against fellow Basque Unai Emery.

The Dubai side entertain their Premier League counterparts this week in a match to mark the official opening of Al Maktoum Stadium. The ground, opened originally in 1981, underwent a significant refurbishment last year ahead of January’s Asian Cup.

Arsenal, fourth in the English top flight with eight matches remaining, are currently in the emirate on a warm-weather training camp. They will face Nasr for the second time, with the first encounter between the two clubs coming in another friendly, in 1976.

“We are very proud to play against one of the top teams in the world like Arsenal,” San Jose said.

“And, also as a coach, I am very proud for this match to be in Al Nasr, because it shows what a big club we are and what a big administration we have that they can bring one such club to play against us.

“And I believe this beautiful and wonderful stadium we have deserves to have a match like this.”

San Jose, 39, understands the challenge that waits his side. Nasr have struggled since his appointment in December and have not won in his seven matches in charge. With nine rounds in the Arabian Gulf League remaining, the three-time UAE champions languish in 11th.

Arsenal, meanwhile, are chasing a spot in next season’s Uefa Champions League spot, while next month they will contest the quarter-finals of the Europa League.

“I want to make our fans proud of our team,” San Jose said. “We know we’re playing against a top team with amazing players, but we must show we also make good work. We need to be very good tactically and our target is to try to play good football. We must try to complicate things for Arsenal as much as we can and then we will see.

“We have a match on March 30 in the league, the competition that is our absolute focus, so we have to find the right balance when using players against Arsenal. We are improving step by step. But, against Arsenal, we’re going to try our best and I’m sure the players are going to do their best.

“I expect that firstly, the fans are going to enjoy it. Because for sure, a lot of fans for Al Nast are coming, but also there will be fans of Arsenal and fans of football. It will be beautiful scenario and atmosphere."

Benat San Jose's Al Nasr side will take on Arsenal on Tuesday at Al Maktoum Stadium. Courtesy Al Nasr
Benat San Jose's Al Nasr side will take on Arsenal on Tuesday at Al Maktoum Stadium. Courtesy Al Nasr

San Jose is particularly enthused by the opportunity to go up against Emery. The two have never met despite both hailing from Basque Country in Spain, and each having been employed by Real Sociedad in San Sebastian.

Emery, 47, began his professional career there. Last summer, he replaced Arsene Wenger in the Arsenal hotseat following the Frenchman’s 22 years at the club.

“As a coach, I take a lot of pride to play against Emery,” San Jose said. “It is nice that he is also from the Basque region, so it will be an honour for me to shake his hand. But not only because he’s from the Basque like me, but because he’s a great, great coach.

"He has made an amazing career with Sevilla, Paris Saint-Germain and now Arsenal, and is a fantastic coach. He is a big name back home. So for that I’m going to be proud to finally meet him.”

With Nasr winless since his arrival, San Jose is hoping to use the match to kick-start a strong end to the season. The former Al Ittihad manager signed a one-and-a-half-year contract with Nasr, and says he is confident he will be given the chance to turn around the team’s form and see out his deal.

“Personally, I am very happy because I’m in an incredible club,” he said. “The players are doing their best, the administration, the president and all the important people around the club are supporting us amazing.

“This is something I really want to say because, when you are winning everybody is happy. But now I can see what a professional club it is. The club is showing me that really we have a project, that we are trying our best and looking at next season. And personally, the UAE is a beautiful country; me and my family are really enjoying it here. So now I need only the victories.”

Updated: March 25, 2019 12:28 PM

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