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20180413 Rafa Benitez.jpg

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Gunners will be used to hectic schedule, says Rafa

Written by Rory Mitchinson

Rafa Benítez does not expect Arsenal to be any weaker as a result of their midweek trip to Russia when the Gunners arrive at St. James’ Park on Sunday.

Arsène Wenger’s side clawed their way back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with CSKA Moscow on Thursday night, making sure of their progress to the last four of the Europa League.

The Gunners have also travelled to the likes of Belarus, Serbia and Sweden this term, though their journeys to the continent have – thus far – made little to difference to their domestic form. Indeed, the North Londoners have not lost a Premier League game this term on the back of a European away trip.

And Benítez – whose troops moved into the top half of the table after beating Leicester City on Saturday – is anticipating that Arsenal will prove similarly resolute when they take on the Magpies in two days’ time.

“Normally, as a manager of a team travelling, you might say, ‘Yes, my team could be a little bit tired.’ The other manager will say, ‘No.’ I have experienced both – when you play the Champions League and the Europa League and you play two games a week, you have to travel and you have all of these distractions, but at the same time you have a bigger squad,” he said.

“(Pierre-Emerick) Aubameyang was not travelling so he will be available. Players who can make a difference on their own, they are fine. They are used to that so I do not see a big issue. Maybe someone will say, ‘They will be tired.’ But when you are used to playing two games a week, especially at this level, when you have a good squad, good players and a manager with experience, I don’t think it will be a big advantage for us.”

Victory on Sunday will see United reach – and surpass – the 40-point target Benítez set his side at the beginning of the campaign.

And, with Newcastle on the brink of securing their Premier League safety, the Spaniard paid tribute to loan signings Martin Dúbravka and Kenedy – the pair’s run in the team having coincided with the Magpies’ upturn in form.

“In January, when we brought in Dúbravka and Kenedy, they were giving us different things – competition in different positions, and everybody was trying even harder. I think that was a key factor, and after that, the team experience and mentality that this group have is good,” Benítez said.

“40 points is the mark, and we have to try and do that. We are closer than before to avoiding relegation, but still, two points will be the key and the mark we are trying to achieve.”

"Maybe someone will say, ‘They will be tired.’ But when you are used to playing two games a week, especially at this level, when you have a good squad, good players and a manager with experience, I don’t think it will be a big advantage for us."

Rafa Benítez

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