Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho pledged to rest a host of first-team regulars for Sunday’s Premier League showdown at Arsenal as he believes his side have missed their chance to claim a top-four finish.
Mourinho instead vowed to keep his key players as fresh as possible for the second leg of their Europa League semi-final against Celta Vigo on May 11 having claimed a vital 1-0 first leg lead in Spain thanks to Marcus Rashford’s winner on Thursday night.
“I think in the last match against Swansea we lost our last chance to fight for top four, so I am going to rest players,” said Mourinho, despite United sitting just one point behind fourth-placed Manchester City with four games to go.
“We are not going to Arsenal to say beat us five or 6-0. We are going there to fight for a result.
“But it is impossible, I cannot do it in another way.”
Celta have consistently rested players in La Liga in recent weeks as they are mired in mid-table.
And Mourinho claimed doing anything but rotating his injury-hit squad would give the Galicians an advantage ahead of the second leg at Old Trafford.
“If Celta was fighting for important things in La Liga we would go in same circumstances, but I cannot go with the same team that played here and go again in the next Thursday.
“We need to be human with the players, be sensible and use common sense in the Premier League.”
Winning the Europa League for the first time in the club’s history would hand United the same prize of a return to the Champions League next season that a top four finish offers.
By fielding a weakened team at the Emirates this weekend, though, Mourinho risks suffering a first ever league defeat against long-standing rival Arsene Wenger.
Arsenal manager Wenger has managed just one win over Mourinho, in the 2015 Community Shield, during his time at Chelsea and United in 16 previous meetings.
– ‘Specialist in failure’ –
During a long history of bad-tempered clashes, Mourinho has often goaded Wenger in the press.
He called the Frenchman a “specialist in failure” in February 2014, whilst the two nearly came to blows in a touchline clash later that year.
Wenger said on Thursday he was prepared to make peace with Mourinho.
But Mourinho claimed there was no need to bury the hatchet with Wenger and that the under-fire Arsenal boss should be happy he will make changes with the Gunners themselves still harbouring ambitions of a top four finish.
“In the last match at Old Trafford, we shook hands before, after, I remember that I still met him in the corridor for the press conferences and we shook hands again,” added Mourinho.
“He doesn’t need to make peace. When there is peace, we don’t have to have problem. I am a big boy, I’m in football all my life, I know a problem on the pitch, the next day is not a problem at all.
“So for me not a problem at all and I think he will be really pleased with me that I am going to change my team against Arsenal.”
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