Solskjær laments Manchester United suspensions despite win at Granada

  • Maguire, Shaw and McTominay all to miss home second leg
  • ‘Not a perfect night’, says manager after win in Europa League

Ole Gunnar Solskjær was delighted at Manchester United’s 2-0 Europa League quarter-final first leg win over Granada, though admitted it was not a “perfect night” as Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay were all booked and will miss next week’s return game at Old Trafford through suspension.

Related: Rashford’s touch and Fernandes’s calm help Manchester United sink Granada

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Europa League roundup: Roma seal fightback at Ajax, Villarreal beat Zagreb

  • Ajax 1-2 Roma; Dinamo Zagreb 0-1 Villarreal
  • Ibañez strike puts Roma in control, Moreno seals Villarreal win

Ibañez crashed home a spectacular volley two minutes from time to give Roma a 2-1 away win over Ajax in their Europa League quarter-final first leg.

A missed penalty and a horror goalkeeping slip cost Ajax dearly as they lost a half-time lead and left them facing a tough task in next week’s return leg in Rome.

Related: Rashford’s finishing touch helps Manchester United sink Granada

Related: Tomas Holes ruins Arsenal’s night as Slavia Prague snatch last-gasp equaliser

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Granada 0-2 Manchester United: Europa League quarter-final – as it happened

Goals from Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes put Manchester United in control of their quarter-final at the half-way stage

Related: Europa League roundup: Roma seal fightback at Ajax, Villarreal beat Zagreb

Related: Tomas Holes ruins Arsenal’s night as Slavia Prague snatch last-gasp equaliser

Sid Lowe has filed his match report, which is my cue to head off. Thanks for your company - goodnight!

Related: Rashford’s finishing touch helps Manchester United sink Granada

Peep peep! That’s a very good night’s work for Manchester United. The game was rubbish, in truth, but United can live with that after such a favourable result. Marcus Rashford scored a classy goal in the first half and Bruno Fernandes added another penalty in the last minute. Granada struggled to lay a glove on United: their only shots on target long-range efforts from Kenedy. United didn’t have many attempts either, but they made theirs count.

90+3 min That second goal makes a big difference to the second leg. It means Solskjaer should - should - be able to start with Fernandes and Rashford on the bench, which is important as they are both in need of a rest.

Fernandes clipped it towards the bottom-left corner. Silva went the right way and got hands on it, but the ball slithered through his hands. That’s a very rare example of a goalkeeping error at a penalty.

Bruno Fernandes scores - just!

89 min: PENALTY TO UNITED! Brice has been penalised for fouling Fernandes off the ball. Everyone was waiting for a Telles cross, and Fernandes went over after a shove to the face by Brice. It looks a bit soft but it was also stupid from Brice, and it’s not going to be overturned by VAR.

88 min If it stays like this it will be Manchester United’s 11th clean sheet in the last 17 games. They’ve needed them, as the goals have dried up a wee bit, 9-0 victories notwithstanding.

86 min And Granada have brought on Luis Suarez (no, stop it) and Yan Brice for Gonalons and Soldado.

85 min Donny van de Beek has come on to replace Mason Greenwood.

84 min Matic is booked for leading with the arm and brushing the face of Puertas.

83 min: Good save from Silva! James did really well, dummying to shoot before reversing a pass to Fernandes. His shot from close range was smothered by Silva. Actually, scratch all that: replays showed Fernandes was offside, so it wouldn’t have counted.

81 min Mathis’s long-range shot deflects behind for a corner. There have only been four shots on target in the whole game: three from Kenedy and the goal from Rashford.

79 min United waste a couple of minutes by passing the ball around in defence and midfield. It’s been a really slow game, the antonym of that deranged thriller between Bayern and PSG last night.

75 min And two more changes for Granada: Dimitri Foulquier and the talented Venezuelan Darwin Machis replace Kenedy and Neva

74 min Another change for United: Pogba off, Matic on. Pogba had a 6.5/10 kind of game.

73 min James surges promisingly down the left but then overhits his cross.

73 min “They may be plucky underdogs, but Granada are a cynical disgrace,” says Duncan Edwards. “I’ve counted at least three times them complaining to the ref about nonexistent elbowing.”

Some of their tackling has been surprisingly brusque as well. They’ve clearly decided the English don’t like it up ’em.

72 min: Harry Maguire is out of the second leg as well - he’s been booked for a foul on Soldado. That means United will be without Shaw, Maguire and McTominay next week.

70 min Herrera breaks forward dangerously but slightly overhits his pass to Neva, whose cross deflects behind off Lindelof. Had the pass been softer, Neva would have been able to shoot first time.

70 min That Bergkamp goal against Argentina was all well and good,” says Ian Copestake, “but talk about a one-footed player!”

69 min Herrera shoots over from the edge of the area.

69 min Granada had a good spell either side of half-time. Since then, however, United have kept them at arm’s length. You never really know in the peculiar world of behind-closed-doors football, but you’d think Granada need at least a draw tonight if they are to have a serious chance of going through next week.

68 min “Watching football without fans in the ground is kind of like an Imitation of Life, wouldn’t you say?” says Peter Oh. “I’d go as far as saying that I’ve been Losing My Religion.”

67 min For the third time tonight, a sweet long-range strike from Kenedy is too close to de Gea. He has been lively though.

66 min Talking of Spurs, Roberto Soldado has a speculative pop from 25 yards. Goal kick to Manchester United.

65 min Another Manchester United change: Edinson Cavani replaces the goalscorer Marcus Rashford, who is presumably being protected with Sunday’s revenge mission at Spurs in mind.

64 min “I’ve a friend who, how can I say it nicely, really does not want to like Rashford,” says Hiruy Gulilat. “This just makes me a defender of Rashford, without pay! And that control before the goal is not making it easy for him.”

63 min I shan’t tell you what’s happening in the other quarter-finals in case you plan to watch any games on delay. But if you want to know the latest scores, this link is your friend.

62 min Fernandes’s corner is headed over by Pogba at the far post. There were plenty of bodies around, but it still looked like a decent chance.

60 min Maguire sells himself near the halfway line and is beaten by Herrera. Granada have a two-on-two attack as a result but Lindelof’s positioning is excellent and he blocks Herrera’s pass towards Soldado.

58 min Maguire rumbles forward from the halfway line, beats Gonalons with some extravagant sleight of hip and rifles a long-range shot not far wide. He really should do that more often.

58 min We’re all friends here, so let us speak frankly: so far, this has been a dog of a game.

54 min Fernandes’s deep free-kick hits the head of Maguire at the far post and ricochets to safety. I’m pretty sure Maguire was unsighted, as otherwise it would have been a decent chance.

54 min Duarte’s night is over. He limps off, German runs on to replace him.

53 min Duarte is going to try to continue, though he’s limping heavily.

51 min Domingos Duarte boots James up in the air - and injures himself in the process. I don’t think he’s going to be able to continue. Either way, he won’t be playing next week: he was booked for that agricultural hack at James, his third yellow card of the tournament.

50 min The next corner is headed away by McTominay, but only as far as Kenedy on the left edge of the box. He whistles a good shot towards goal, but it’s too close to de Gea.

49 min Granada have won five or six corners either side of half-time. Make that six or seven, with Montoro’s near-post corner headed behind for another by Pogba...

47 min United have switched their front players: James to the left, Rashford central, Greenwood on the right.

46 min Peep peep! Granada begin the second half.

United have made a half-time substitution - Alex Telles is on for Luke Shaw.

That goal was Rashford’s 20th of the season, to go with 22 in 2019-20. Those are really decent numbers for a wide forward in a team that are good but not great.

“Putting aside magnificent art-pop for a second, Rashford’s first touch for the goal was absolutely filthy, and shouldn’t be shown without some kind of warning message,” says Matt Dony. “It was pre-watershed!”

If that’s an excuse to link to something I wrote ten years ago, then I don’t know what is!

Related: The Joy of Six: football first touches | Rob Smyth

“Hi Rob,” says David Wall. “What is the weather like in Spain this evening? I imagine it’s noticeably warmer than it has been in Manchester over the past week so it’ll be important for United’s players to replenish their Electrolyte levels at half time. If not then there’s a risk of a couple of Daysleepers in the defence as they’ll tire later in the game. With them having the lead in the away leg of the tie will Solskjaer be asking for more Drive in the second half, or will be an Apologist for taking a more defensive approach?”

I hope you’re proud of yourself, Matt Dony.

Peep peep! Mason Greenwood had half a chance to double the lead just before the break, but tried one stepover too many and was dispossessed. As it is, Marcus Rashford’s expertly taken goal has put United in control of the tie. It was a forgettable half, very sluggish, though Granada started to attack with more aggression after going behind. See you soon for the second half.

Marcus Rashford is the first English player to score eight goals for #mufc in European competition in a single season (excluding qualifiers) since Bobby Charlton in 1964/65 #mulive [opta]

45 min This is Granada’s best spell. They’ve been quite aggressive at times, particularly with Rashford and Fernandes, and I suspect we’ll see more of that after half-time.

44 min A nice corner routine from Granada. Montoro clips it outside the area to Kenedy, who cuts across a sweet volley that is comfortably saved by de Gea. It was straight at him, but a really good strike.

43 min “R.E.M. songs, is it, Martyn Crooks?” says Matt Dony. “United a goal up and looking to go through to the Great Beyond of the semi-finals. Granada have got players who could make a difference, though, if they tune themselves in. What’s The Frequency, Kenedy?”

Alexa!

42 min Luke Shaw is also out of the second leg: he has been booked for fouling Puertas.

41 min Montoro angle sthe resulting free-kick towards Herrera, whose volleyed cross hits the outside of the post! De Gea had it covered, I think, although the movement of his hands wasn’t entirely convincing. Moments later, Soldado drags a half chance wide of the near post.

40 min McTominay is booked for a foul on Puertas. That means he’ll miss the second leg.

39 min United have had 71 per cent of the possession. Rashford’s goal is the only shot on target at either end.

38 min A nice move from Granada ends with Dias flashing an excellent ball across the six-yard box.

35 min Fernandes’s long-range shot deflects behind for a corner. Nothing comes of it. The game has been a stinker, in truth, but United won’t care now they have taken the lead.

33 min Rashford’s angled run and finish were good, but the key to the goal was that velvety first touch.

32 min Herrera’s cross-shot almost falls kindly for Soldado, who is unable to sort his feet out at very short notice.

Ah, it was an exceedingly simple goal. Lindelof drove a 60-yard pass over the defence to Rashford, who killed the dropping ball majestically and slid it past Silva from 10 yards.

Marcus Rashford scores, and I’ve no idea what happened because they were showing a replay of the Soldado shot!

30 min Puertas gets to the byline and stabs the ball across to Soldado, who shoots into the side netting from a very tight angle. He had no chance of scoring from there.

28 min At the other end, Kenedy hammers a bouncing ball over the bar from a very tight angle.

27 min McTominay, the only man playing with much urgency, clips an excellent pass over the defence to find Rashford on the left of the area. He plays the ball back to Fernandes, whose outside-of-the-foot strike is blocked. Rashford picks up the loose ball and tries a big curling shot towards the far corner. He gets too much on it.

25 min Herrera goes down holding his face after a challenge with McTominay in the centre circle. McTominay did slap him, though I’m 99.9 per cent sure it was accidental. The referee agrees.

23 min Granada are very well organised defensively, and so far United haven’t threatened to open them up.

19 min Rashford wallops the free-kick over the bar. On the plus side, he doesn’t seem to be feeling his ankle any more.

18 min Fernandes is fouled 28 yards from goal by Herrera. The free-kick is a fair way to the left of centre, but Rashford looks like he wants to have a shot.

17 min Nothing is happening. The game is now taking place almost exclusively in Granada’s half, but not so much in their third.

14 min United are starting to have more of the ball, though it’s all fairly slow and safe for now. Granada look happy to play on the counter-attack.

11 min Rashford is still on the field. It’s hard to know whether he’s okay, as he’s had no reason to break into a sprint since that blocked shot in the fifth minute.

9 min Yes, it is the same Kenedy of Chelsea/Newcastle/Watford/Fluminense fame.

8 min Pogba loses the ball to Kenedy in a dangerous area, then brings him down and is booked. United, as is their wont, have started quite sluggishly.

7 min Rashford, who was a doubt for this game, looks like he’s struggling a little.

6 min The game is stopped for a few seconds because of a streaker. He looked very pleased with himself as he charged naked across the field.

5 min United break through Pogba, who plays a fine long pass out to Rashford out on the left. He cuts inside and has a shot blocked.

4 min It’s been a lively start from Granada, with most of the early exchanges taking place in the United half.

2 min “Predictions Rob?” says John Ryan. “I see United getting three, at least...”

I’m going for 2-1 Granada.

1 min Peep peep! United, wearing their Joy Division tribute kit, kick off from left to right. Granada are in their red and white home strip.

Related: Which football teams have played in kits inspired by musicians? | The Knowledge

The players stroll onto the field. It’s a crisp night in southern Spain, and the only shame is that there aren’t 19,000 supporters here for the biggest game in Granada’s history.

Apropos very little, BT Sport’s Curb Your Enthusiasm-themed FA Cup adverts never fail to make me smile. Whoever came up with the idea deserves an award.

@AFCWimbledon v West Ham ⚒️
January 2019

"Two strong centre forwards...there's only going to be one winner!"

What the cup?!

#EmiratesFACup | Third Round | This weekend pic.twitter.com/uehhm5wOOL

Sutton v Leeds ⚪️
January 2017

"Leeds always produce, they're in a good place at the moment!"

What the cup?!

#EmiratesFACup | Third Round | Starts January 8th pic.twitter.com/xp8GkkvyxJ

“Agree that Granada is an incredible place,” says Martyn Crooks. “I lived there for a few months as a student; at the time CF Granada were playing the third-tier football. The only time I was at El Estadio Los Carmenes was to see an R.E.M. concert. That evening I witnessed an attempt to relive their glory day, not too unlike recent Manchester United.”

Look, the new album is a return to form.

We tend not to do live blogs from the ground. More’s the pity.

Welcome to the House of Dreams, @ManUtd. #UEL #GRAMUN pic.twitter.com/kUISV9GLhH

“God, I love Granada,” writes Ian Copestake. “Not the team (didn’t know they had one!). The place! If only it was one the coast it would be THE best place on the planet.”

When you wrote ‘not the team’, I thought you were about to start eulogising Coronation Street and the Krypton Factor.

The route to Europa League glory for Granada and United

Semi-final Roma or Ajax

Pre-match reading

Related: Roberto Soldado: ‘I can’t believe I’m meeting Manchester United again’

Related: Solskjær welcomes Henderson and De Gea rivalry for Manchester United

David de Gea starts in goal for Manchester United, one of three changes from the team that beat Brighton on Sunday. Scott McTominay and Daniel James replace Fred and Edinson Cavani. That probably means Mason Greenwood will move to centre forward.

Granada (4-2-3-1) Silva; Diaz, Vallejo, Duarte, Neva; Herrera, Gonalons; Puertas, Montoro, Kenedy; Soldado.
Substitutes: Banacloche, Fabrega, Foulquier, Nehuen Perez, German, Suarez, Brice, Machis, Molina.

Hello. Let’s start with a trip to Dictionary Corner:

nearly
ADVERB
Nearly is used to indicate that something is not quite the case, or not completely the case.

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Arsenal 1-1 Slavia Prague – Europa League quarter-final, first leg – as it happened

Tomas Holes scored in injury-time to give the Czech side a first-leg advantage after Nicolas Pépé had scored for Arsenal

Related: Europa League roundup: Roma seal fightback at Ajax, Villarreal beat Zagreb

Related: Rashford’s finishing touch helps Manchester United sink Granada

Related: Tomas Holes ruins Arsenal’s night as Slavia Prague snatch last-gasp equaliser

The Arsenal manager laments his side’s failure to see the game out after taking the lead late on. “The game was under control ... then we played two or three balls that we shouldn’t do and then we conceded the corner. They put a lot of big boys in there and then anything can happen. “ But he remains confident his team can prevail in the second leg. “The final result leaves a difficult taste. But the mindset is to go there and win the game.”

The Czechs have the advantage going into the second leg thanks to Holes’ late away goal. Arsenal were sluggish for most of the match but were given impetus by late substitutions. Two of them - Aubameyang and Pepe - combined to make a breakthrough at least and seemingly give Arsenal a precious first-leg lead. But they couldn’t hold on to their lead for even a few minutes, wilting under pressure again. Slavia celebrated at the final whistle as if they think they’ve done the hardest part of this tie. Arsenal will have a job on their hands to prove them wrong.

Slavia have stolen an away goal in the final seconds! Arteta throws his hands to his face! IT came from a crisply delivered corner by Provod. Pépé could only deflect it onwards from the edge of the six-yard box and Holes beat Soares to it at the back post to send a plunging header into the net!

90+3 min: Masopust and Provod comebine slinikily on the right and then Provod surprises everyone by unloading a ferocious let-footed shot from a difficult angle. Leno reacts well to push it it for a corner!

90+1 min: Arteta roars at Leno for taking too long over a goalkick, as if the Arsenal manager is the only who realises there is an opportunity to increase their first-leg lead in the remaining minutes.

90 min: There will be at least four more minutes.

Arsenal substitution: Ceballos on, Smith Rowe off.

The substitutes make the difference and Arsenal have the goal they wanted! Aubameyang did well to outfight Zima to collect a long clearance from Xhaka, and then the Gabon international slipped a pass through for Pépé, who outpaced the retreating Zima and dinked the ball over the advancing keeper!

Slavia substitution: Traoré on, Olayinka off.

Slavia substitution: Masopust on, Stanciu off.

82 min: Pépé plays lays a square pass off to Martinelli, about 20 yards out. The newcomer shoots first time, forcing the keeper to palm it over for another corner. The pressure from Arsenal is building ...

80 min: Pépé wins a corner. Arsenal are finally playing with the tempo and intensity they should have shown from the start. Can they get the goal they crave?

78 min: Aubameyang almost makes his mark immediately, but pokes just wide after cute play between him, Smith Rowe and Pépé.

Arsenal substitutions: Aubameyang, Pepe and Elneny on, Lacazette, Sakar and Partey off.

77 min: Kuchta skips past Holding easily down the left and then crosses. From in front of goal Soares hooks it away, but only as far as Sevick 10 yards out. The midfielder bangs a shot badly wide! That could have been their away goal, instead it’s a big escape for Arsenal.

75 min: Good work by Lacazette down the left to win possession and then deliver a useful cross. The ball breaks to Partey, who has been disappointing today, and from the edge of the box the midfielder curls a low shot a yard wide.

74 min: You can almost sense a goal coming in this. Slavia are becoming increasingly confident going forward, and Arsenal have found a little more urgency.

Arsenal substitution: Martinelli on, Willian off.

72 min: Kuchta shows his strength to hold off Gabriel and and then motor into the box. but Gabriel leaps to his feet and chases back to regain possession.

70 min: Martinelli is warming up for Arsenal as Arteta considers ways to sharpen up his attack. No sign of Aubameyang being readied yet though.

Slavia substitutions: Kuchta and Linger on, Dorley and Sima off.

65 min: Slavia seem to fancy their chances of nicking an away goal and have become more ambitious in the last few minutes. That is leaving Arsenal with more counter-attacking opportunities. Saka leads the latest one, firing a dangerous cross whizzing across the face of goal. Lacazette stretches to meet it but can’t divert it on the target.

62 min: Sevcik tries to trick his way past Lacazette near half-way. The Frenchman isn’t fooled. He nicks the ball off Sevcik and suddenly he has a clear run at Slavia’s goal from over 50 yards out! He chugs forward, just fast enough to remain ahead of the retreating defender, and when the keeper comes to meet him near the edge of the area, Lacazette steers the shot around him ... and onto the crossbar! And a defender prevents Smith Rowe from collecting the rebound!

60 min: Willian gives the ball away. Then he chases back to win back possession in his own half. Then he gives the ball away again with another slack pass. Someone somewhere is counting all these misplaces passes, all I can do is tell you Arsenal have committed far too many of them.

58 min: Slavia play their way out nicely from the back, and suddenly Provod is romping into Arsenal’s territory with Boril bombing forward to his left. He duly slips the ball through to Boril, whose shot from 18 yards is a little bobbly. Leno blocks, to Arsenal’s relief.

56 min: Saka remains Arsenal’s most threatening outlet but he has just ruined a dangerous break by overhitting a cross from the right when Lacazette and Smith Rowe and Soares were waiting for a presentable delivery.

53 min: Gabriel is down receiving treatment on his left ankle after being caught by Sima as the pair contested a high ball/

51 min: Gabriel dashes across to cut out a through-ball towards Stanciu, at the expense of a corner. That could have been averted if the communication between Gabriel and Leno had been better. The corner triggers a flurry of pressure but Arsenal eventually scramble the ball away.

49 min: Willian curls the freekick from the right-hand corner of the box around the wall ... and it crashes against the outside of the post!

48 min: Bellerin curls a low pass around the right back, giving Saka a chance to chase. Zima resorts to pulling the winger back, a blatant foul just outside the box. Arsenal have a freekick, Zima gets a booking.

47 min: A sloppy start to the second period by Arsenal, as they are forced back by Slavia’s pressing and then Leno kicks the ball straight out of play when attempting a simple pass to Soares.

46 min: No moves from Arteta yet but Slavia have made a change for the second half, with Sevcik replacing Hromada.

The score is the same as it was at the start, and not much has happened since then. It’s been a disappointingly low-key affair so far. Slavia have not had to strain themselves too hard to keep Arsenal at bay and have not offered much of a test to the Arsenal defence. If either manager can stimulate even a little improvement for the second period, his team could win this. Maybe Aubameyang will come off the bench to make the difference, after all?

42 min: Smith Rowe hasn’t been able to exert much influence so far. But Lacazette comes deep again to receive the ball in midfield, then he turns and plays a clever pass through to Saka on the right. Saka’s cross is cleared behind for a corner, which is probably the best he could have hoped for, since there were no Arsenal players in the box.

39 min: Soares beats his man down the left and digs out a useful cross. Holding’s header from 10 yards is touched over by the keeper.

38 min: Lacazette booms the freekick into the wall.

37 min: Lacazette comes back to sabotage a Slavia attack. Arsenal counter quickly, Bellerin leading the charge. Inevitably he feeds Saka, who tries to skip his way into the box but is chopped down, giving Arsenal a freekick about 23 yards out, a touch to the right of the D.

35 min: Slavia build their way forward for the first time in a while and manage to fire off a shot, but Olayinka’s piffler from 20 yards is easily stopped by Leno.

34 min: Arsenal have got the upper hand in the last 10 minutes or so, with Slavia barely threatening. But there’s still not enough intensity or sharpness about Arsenal’s attacking.

32 min: Bellerin knows what time it is. He feeds Saka. But this time the 19-year-old gets curl when none was needed and his cross from the right floats into the keeper’s arms.

29 min: Holding releases Saka again. The young winger runs into the right-hand side of the box, draws out the keeper and then tries to curl a left-footed shot into the far corner ... but he fails to get any curl on it and drifts harmlessly wide. A poor finish but it’s clear that Saka is Arsenal’s most dangerous player and they should keep supplying him. Holding twigged that a while ago.

28 min: Partey burst through midfield then feeds Lacazette at the edge of the box, coming in from the right. The Frenchman takes a touch to tee himself up for a shot ... and then blasts the ball high over the bar.

26 min: A lovely pass by Holding sends Saka scampering down the right. He clips the ball back from the byline but Bah does well to get to it before Willian. Slavia then hurtle forward but their attack comes to a half when Holding gets involved again.

24 min: Lacazette does well to collect a ball into the left-hand channel by Gabriel. Then he lays it back for Willian, who’s bundled to the ground by Bah. That gives Arsenal a freekick wide on the left, a few yards short of the corner flag. Saka delivers an outswinger. Gabriel backpedals to meet it near the penalty spot but can’t get much power or accuracy into this header. Goalkick.

21 min: Gabriel gives the ball straight back to Slavia after breaking up a move by the visitors. He’s been far from the only culprit.

19 min: Slavia play their way out from the back under hotch-potch pressing from Arsenal. Coordinated pressing was one obvious thing that Arteta brought to Arsenal but it’s looked more haphazard - and thus less effective - recently, including in this match so far.

17 min: Holding tries to drop a pass from half way over the top of the Slavia defence and into the path of Saka. But he overhits it. The team are showing each other plenty of respect so far, with each quick to fall back in number and make it difficult for the other to find a way through.

15 min: Provod spanks a lovely diagonal pass to the right. When the cross comes in, Bellerin does very well to beat an attacker to it and nod it away. But it breaks to Provod, who tries to drive it at goal from 20 yards. HE catches it nicely but the ball whizzes just over.

13 min: There’s another positive - a smart pass by Saka, who has been Arsenal’s most inventive player so far. He slides a pass through to the overlapping Bellerin, but that’s as good as it gets, because Bellerin’s low cross fails to beat the first defender.

11 min: “Arsenal still have a clean sheet? Good,” writes Charles Antaki, finding a positive amid a drab start to this game.

9 min: Saka tries a clever pass forward from the right-hand touchline. Lacazette scampers after it but goalkeeper was alive to the danger and beat him to the ball at the edge of the area.

7 min: There’s a confidence to Slavia’s play, you can tell they are a team accustomed to winning. But Dorley’s shot from the edge of the area hits his own man after a clever corner kick routine.

5 min: Holes, a midfielder deployed in defence because of injuries, rushes across to make a good tackle in the box on Saka, snuffing out Arsenal’s first attack.

4 min: Very circumspect from Arsenal so far. Slavia have had most of the ball but not been able to pick a way through their hosts.

2 min: Soares, not Bellerin, has started at left-back. Arsenal defenders have been the busier so far, as Slavia make a bright start, without threatening.

1 min: The visitors do the kickoff thing, and Arsenal-Slavia Prague is go!

The players are out on the grass, lining up for the tournament jingle. The Slavia goalkeeper, Ondrej Kolar, is sporting a Phantom of the Opera-style protective face mask as a result of the injury suffered against Rangers.

The Arsenal manager says the weekend’s defeat to Liverpool is “out of the system - now we have to play with the ambition and passion that the game deserves.” An and asked why Aubameyang is out of the system today, Arteta replies: “We had to pick the right team to start the game in the best possible way.” He suggests the captain may get the chance to make an impact later: “We have the option to make five subs and that’s a big thing. We want to use our squad to the maximum.”

“As a Gooner, I’m unsure about this one,” write Bill Hargreaves, echoing the sentiments of thousands. “Which Arsenal will turn up? The one represented by Saka at his best (his usual mode), or the one represented by one of Willian’s less good days? I have a good feeling, believing in Mikel’s ability to rouse the troops after the lame showing against Liverpool. Whatever happens, I won’t be celebrating too hard for some time, I suspect. Hashtag iffy re-build.”

Kieran Tierney hasn’t made it, so Hector Bellerin is expected to play at left-back. But Bukayo Saka is back after missing the last three matches - none of which Arsenal won - and so are Emile Smith Rowe and Granit Xhaka. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been dropped to the bench. Captain Dispensable.

Arsenal: Leno; Soares, Holding, Gabriel, Bellerin; Smith Rowe, Xhaka, Partey; Willian, Lacazette, Saka

Hello and welcome. Fourteen months into Mikel Arteta’s reign there are still more questions than answers at Arsenal. But one thing is for sure: winning the Europa League would be an honourable achievement, because it will be hard to do. Their opponents today are pretty much everything that Arsenal are not: reliable, powerful and truly in synch with each other. Those qualities, plus a splash of flair, enabled them to oust Leicester and Rangers in previous rounds and should help them poke at Arsenal’s well known frailties. It’s anyone’s guess as to how Arsenal will cope: they unquestionably have the ability to beat the Czech champions, even heavily, but that will require them having one of their good days, where they operate as a real collective in which their individual flourishes. Do that and they could earn a nice first-leg lead and take one step towards a semi-final meeting with either Villarreal or the conquerors of Spurs, Dinamo Zagreb. But fail to do that and Arsenal will find themselves facing the prospect of a joyless campaign. The stakes are high. Will Arsenal rise to them? that’s what we’re here to find out.

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‘Unreal potential’: Sima’s rapid rise from farmland practice to Arsenal tie

Slavia Prague forward is hot property and Senegal international after rising from obscurity in France and Czech Republic

At the tail end of a harsh south Bohemian winter, the higher echelons of European football could hardly have seemed further away. Abdallah Sima was 18 when he arrived at FC Taborsko, then in the Czech Republic’s third tier, shortly before Covid-19 stopped play. Lodged in a rural apartment, there was little to do except train: so it was that Sima’s first two months were spent on a flattened patch of farmland, flanked by piles of chopped timber, kicking balls between cones with the former football coach who owned his accommodation.

On Thursday evening, though, Sima will step out at the Emirates Stadium as one of the most highly prized young forwards around. When Slavia Prague took him from Taborsko last July, he had yet to play a competitive match and the move was viewed as a punt: Sima would begin in the Czech champions’ B team and sink or swim from there, although his advisers were not shy in telling the Slavia hierarchy he would not require such a significant adaptation spell.

Related: Kieran Tierney could miss rest of season with knee injury in Arsenal blow

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Roberto Soldado: ‘I can’t believe I’m meeting Manchester United again’

Striker with overachievers Granada is excited by Europa League clash and loving football after contemplating retirement

“Remember it? Do I?!” Roberto Soldado says and then he starts laughing. The last time he played Manchester United was New Year’s Day 2014 and the first thing that comes to his mind is the sorry sight of himself sitting alone the night before, stuffing grapes into his mouth as fast as possible. “We were playing on the first at midday so I said to my wife: ‘We’ll be going up to Manchester on 31st. Go to Spain, be with the family, don’t stay here on your own.’ She went and then the manager said we’d travel that morning so we could spend new year with our families …”

Soldado puts his head in hands and cracks up again. He looks at the screen. “I ended up doing a video call, like this one. Me and the family eating grapes on each chime of midnight [as Spanish tradition dictates]. Them in Spain, me on my own in London. A disaster. A bit sad, really.” There’s a grin. “But it was worth it: the next day we won at Old Trafford.”

Related: Solskjær welcomes Henderson and De Gea rivalry for Manchester United

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Solskjær welcomes Henderson and De Gea rivalry for Manchester United

  • United manager praises ‘bond’ and ‘spirit’ between goalkeepers
  • Solskjær refuses to confirm who will face Granada on Thursday

Ole Gunnar Solskjær has welcomed the “bond” between Dean Henderson and David de Gea that he says exists despite fierce competition between the goalkeepers to be first choice for Manchester United.

Henderson was preferred to De Gea for Sunday’s 2-1 win over Brighton, a sign that the 24-year-old may now be considered Solskjær’s first choice given that the Spaniard had previously been picked regularly in the Premier League.

Related: Liverpool floored in Madrid, Dortmund denied at City – Football Weekly

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Slavia Prague’s Ondrej Kudela not returning to UK for Arsenal game

  • Kudela accused of racism at Rangers, which he denies
  • Defender said by club to be ill and injured

Slavia Prague have announced that the defender Ondrej Kudela, who is at the centre of Uefa and police investigations into alleged racial abuse, will miss the Europa League quarter-final first leg at Arsenal on Thursday because of injury and illness.

Kudela was involved in an incident with Rangers’ Glen Kamara, who said his opponent had racially abused him during the Czech side’s win at Ibrox on 18 March. Uefa and Police Scotland have launched investigations, with Kamara’s lawyer saying he expected the latter to question Kudela when he returned to the UK to face Arsenal.

Related: Police to question Slavia Prague’s Ondrej Kudela if he travels to Arsenal

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Police to question Slavia Prague’s Ondrej Kudela if he travels to Arsenal

  • Player accused of racially abusing Rangers’ Glen Kamara
  • Slavia to visit Arsenal in Europa League; Kundela denies claim

Slavia Prague’s Ondrej Kudela is expected to be questioned over accusations of racist abuse against Glen Kamara if he returns to the UK for the Europa League quarter-final against Arsenal, the Rangers player’s lawyer has said.

Police Scotland confirmed on Tuesday they were investigating allegations of racism after an incident during Slavia’s victory at Ibrox last Thursday. Slavia have denied the claims of “vile racist abuse” levelled against Kudela by Kamara.

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