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Manchester United v Arsenal: Wenger seeks to secure group-stage spot

Arsene Wenger has stressed the importance of avoiding a UEFA Champions League play-off spot as Arsenal visit Manchester United in the Premier League.

Wenger’s men travel to Old Trafford on Sunday knowing that a first away league win at United since 2006 will see them secure a top-three finish ahead of Louis van Gaal’s side.

Arsenal, who will take heart from triumphing 2-1 at United in the FA Cup in March, have contested a play-off in seven of their last nine Champions League campaigns and squeaked through 1-0 on aggregate against Besiktas at the start of 2014-15.

Victory over United would see them seal direct qualification for the group stages.

And Wenger said: “It’s very important for your season preparations to not have that kind of stress [about the Champions League qualifier] over your head from the first day you start again – it’s vital.

“The consequences are always dramatic if you don’t qualify.

“What is even more important now is that the international competitions force you most of the time to start the new season without your players.

“You cannot give them a long enough rest when they have played international games. You know that in England we have no break in the winter. That’s sometimes difficult to deal with.”

Arsenal are two points clear and have a game in hand on fourth-placed United, who overcame Crystal Palace 2-1 last weekend.

Only a huge swing in goal difference can see United miss out on the top four due to their six-point advantage over Liverpool with two games left and Van Gaal’s men appear well set to challenge for the title next season following the signing of striker Memphis Depay last week.

Earlier this week, executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward stated he was satisfied with United’s season and expects more progress in 2015-16. 

Van Gaal said: “I and the board said the goal was to get in the first four positions and we have reached that two games before the end of the season, it’s not bad I think.

“But it’s also dependable on how we can make a balance in our selection. It’s not good that I have had to change positions of players because players are injured.”

United have more fitness concerns ahead of the game, with captain Wayne Rooney failing to recover from a dead leg sustained against Palace, while Luke Shaw is also ruled out.

Robin van Persie is fit to feature, though, as the Dutchman has shaken off a virus in time to face his former club, while Angel di Maria and Marcos Rojo have both been passed fit.

Arsenal, meanwhile, are still without former United striker Danny Welbeck (knee), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mathieu Debuchy (both hamstring), but Aaron Ramsey (knock) should play.

Fri 15 May, 2015
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