Unai Emery declares Arsenal will finish in Premier League top four after victory over Al Nasr
London club beat Dubai side 3-2 in friendly at Al Maktoum Stadium as five-day camp comes to successful end
If and when Arsenal end their Premier League season on May 12 having finished in the top four, might they give some credit for this to their warm-weather training camp in Dubai?
One can never say for sure. But if there is something the 23-man squad will take back to London, it is a sense of preparedness for the challenges that lie ahead for them in the top flight of English football.
Unai Emery's men ended their five-day stint in the emirate on Tuesday with a 3-2 win in a friendly against Al Nasr, a result that prompted their manager to declare they will finish in the top four, which is necessary for them to qualify for the Uefa Champions League.
Arsenal, on 60 points, are fourth at the moment behind Liverpool (76), Manchester City (74) and Tottenham Hotspur (61). But they cannot afford any slip-ups in the remaining eight games given they are only two points above Manchester United and three above Chelsea.
“We know it’s going to be difficult, but we have the momentum and are improving after every game,” Emery said at Al Maktoum Stadium. “We are working very well and the confidence is back in the camp.
"Our next game is against Newcastle [on April 1] and this camp, this game and the change of weather have certainly helped us," the Spaniard added.
Overall, Emery was satisfied with the trip.
“We are very happy to be here and play against Nasr. We enjoyed a lot here, first by our work, and secondly, all the good hospitality we received from all the people in Dubai," he said. “We are happy for the five days we spent here, which was also part of our preparation for our game against Newcastle.”
If the "Magpies" are no pushovers – they are 13th in the league – Arsenal found in Nasr tricky opponents who took the lead as early as 14 minutes into the game when Ronnie Fernandez knocked in a cross from midfielder Dutra into the right post and back of the net.
In the process the Chilean striker, on loan from Saudi Arabia’s Al Fayha, silenced more than 14,000 Arsenal supporters.
A goal did look imminent for Nasr before his strike, with the home team making all the right moves from the get-go, testing Arsenal's No 1 keeper Bernd Leno with two close-range efforts from Fernandez and former Manchester City striker Alvaro Negredo.
Carl Jenkinson cancelled Nasr’s lead three minutes before half time. Denis Suarez hit the bar, but the Englishman was quick to slam in the rebound to the bottom right corner of the net to spark celebrations among the Arsenal fans.
Arsenal stepped it up thereafter, driving up the pitch. They moved into the lead thanks a lovely passing interchange between Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette on the edge of the box. The latter picked up the ball, took a touch with his right and then fired into the back of the net with his left on 51 minutes.
Twenty minutes later, some quick work from Tyreece John-Jules made it 3-1.
Khalid Jalal got a consolation goal for the home team on 89 minutes as he converted a spot-kick past Petr Cech moments after Ben Sheaf felled Ahmed Jashak on regulation time.
Emery paid tribute to their Dubai opponents. “Nasr pushed us hard and gave a good performance in the first 45 minutes. We got our rhythm back in the second period and settled to control the game," he said.
“Tonight we provided chances to our young players and we played in a good rhythm, which was important for us. We haven’t played a game in more than two weeks so this game was important for us to keep training and keep moving."
The game had some light moments. Ozil made a fan jump with joy when he sent his shirt to a fan who held a banner reading: “Ozil, please give me your shirt.”
Updated: March 27, 2019 08:33 AM