Ralf Ragnick was forced to play down talk of dressing room unrest as he dismissed Manchester United’s chances of finishing in the top four after they slipped to defeat at rivals Arsenal.
A 3-1 loss at the Emirates Stadium was punctuated by a Bruno Fernandes penalty miss, with interim boss Rangnick revealing Cristiano Ronaldo told him he “didn’t feel well enough” to take the spot-kick.
Nuno Tavares’s first Arsenal goal, a Bukayo Saka penalty and Granit Xhaka’s fine strike was enough to secure the points for the Gunners, who had looked rattled after Ronaldo had pulled one back with his 100th Premier League goal.
Speaking as a pundit after United’s loss at Arsenal, former midfielder Paul Scholes revealed: “It is an absolute mess. It is a disaster of a dressing room. I had a quick chat with Jesse (Lingard) the other day and I’m sure he won’t mind me saying that the dressing room is just a disaster.”
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‘I don’t see that there is an issue’
Jadon Sancho after defeat at the Emirates Stadium
When the quotes were put to Rangnick in the aftermath of the defeat, he refuted the claims: “I don’t know, you have to ask Jesse Lingard if you have this information.
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“Obviously after games like today or the games at Liverpool or Everton, there is massive disappointment in the locker room for sure.
“This is normal. It would be rather a problem if that was different so this is for me normal. I think the whole group, they get on reasonably with each other.
“I’m not daring to say they get on well with each other but I don’t see that there is an issue with regard to the atmosphere in the locker room.”
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‘Not realistic to think about the top-four’
Bruno Fernandes after his penalty miss at Arsenal
United missed the perfect chance to level after Tavares conceded a penalty for handball but Fernandes could only hit the post from 12 yards.
The result left United six points behind fourth-placed Arsenal having played a game more and Rangnick, who will depart in the summer to be replaced by Erik ten Hag, believes Champions League qualification is now beyond reach.
“Look at the table and the teams with Tottenham and Arsenal, I think it is not very realistic to dream and speak about the top four,” he said.
Asked about why Fernandes took the penalty and not Ronaldo, Rangnick explained: “It’s between the both of them.
“Both are penalty-takers. Cristiano told me after the game that he didn’t feel well enough and that’s why Bruno took it. In the end it was about two or three yards a little bit further to the right.”
Arteta: Xhaka’s goal a dream
Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta described his side’s 3-1 victory over Manchester United as ‘a rollercoaster’.
While United lurched to another defeat, with captain Harry Maguire watching on from the bench having been axed following the 4-0 loss at Liverpool, Arsenal continued their rejuvenation.
The Gunners bounced back from three consecutive defeats with a win at Chelsea and followed that up with victory over a top-four rival.
For manager Mikel Arteta, seeing Xhaka score the important third goal was something special as the Switzerland midfielder continues to have a strained relationship with the club’s fanbase.
“I was dreaming of that because he deserves it,” he said.
“If any fan would individually spend five or 10 minutes with Granit, or even two minutes, because that’s all you need, they would understand the person that he is, the professional that he is and how much he cares about the club.
“I think it was a phenomenal game for fans, for us it was a bit of a rollercoaster. We wanted to start the game really fast, dominate it, create issues, be really vertical and we managed to do that.””
Analysis: Xhaka’s influence at Arsenal clear
Granit Xhaka celebrates after putting Arsenal 3-1 up against Manchester United
Sky Sports’ Oliver Yew at the Emirates Stadium:
There’s been plenty of change at Arsenal throughout Mikel Arteta’s reign at the Emirates Stadium, but one constant has been Granit Xhaka.
Earlier this month, Xhaka admitted he was so close to leaving the club after clashing with the home fans during a 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace in 2019. “My bags were packed. The passports were out,” Xhaka told The Players’ Tribune. “I was done with Arsenal. Finished. There was a contract on the table from another club, and all I had to do was sign.”
However, it was Arteta’s arrival at the club months later and his intervention, which convinced Xhaka to stay, and two years later the Switzerland international is still just as important for the Spaniard.
Xhaka’s name is not always up in lights, especially for wonder strikes, but against Man Utd the 29-year-old provided what could be a huge moment in Arsenal’s season, and one that could propel them towards a top-four finish.
Arsenal were feeling the heat against Manchester United, who were piling the pressure on the Gunners’ creaking backline as they went in search of an equaliser, but Xhaka stepped up just when the club needed him with a thunderbolt of a strike to seal what could prove to be a vital win in his side’s season.
“I was dreaming of that because he deserves it,” Arteta said about Xhaka. “If any fan would spend two minutes with Granit they would understand the person that he is and how much he loves the club. He opened up because he feels the environment is there to protect him. Thank you to the fans for that.”
In Xhaka’s interview, he also mentioned the fans, who, it is fair to say, he has had an up-and-down relationship with.
Speaking about the Palace incident, he said: “I can’t pretend that my relationship with the fans will ever be the same, because that moment will always be in my heart. I would like us to have a better relationship. I would like us to understand each other better.”
The goal is obviously one way to improve that relationship, and in the celebrations it was clear to what the strike meant to both the player and the fans. He blew a kiss to the stands and the love was reciprocated from the Arsenal fans.
It felt like a world away from that tumultuous October day back in 2019. It felt like a huge moment in Xhaka’s Arsenal career. It felt like the respect was there once again.
He may not have the captain’s armband anymore – he may not want the armband anymore – but his leadership and influence on Arteta’s Arsenal is clear.
Maybe, just maybe, everyone is starting come around to Arteta’s way of thinking and realising just how important Xhaka is to this side.
West Ham United
Sunday 1st May 4:00pm
Kick off 4:30pm
Arsenal face a trip to London rivals West Ham in the Premier League next Sunday, live on Sky Sports; kick-off 4.30pm.
Up next for Manchester United is another game against London opposition as they face Chelsea at Old Trafford on Thursday, live on Sky Sports, kick-off 7.45pm.
Thursday 28th April 7:00pm
Kick off 7:45pm
Arsenal’s remaining fixtures…
May 1 – West Ham (a), live on Sky Sports
May 8 – Leeds (h), live on Sky Sports
May 12 – Tottenham (a), live on Sky Sports
May 16 – Newcastle (a), live on Sky Sports
May 22 – Everton (h)
Man Utd’s remaining fixtures
April 28 – Chelsea (h), live on Sky Sports
May 2 – Brentford (h), live on Sky Sports
May 7 – Brighton (a), live on Sky Sports
May 22 – Crystal Palace (a)
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