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“It was difficult at the start of the season for them but I think they are on the way back and that showed the performances of the team and they won the last four games. “It’s a nice challenge for us on Monday.” United can go third if they beat Southampton, who are a point ahead of them in the table, and then face Liverpool but Van Gaal disputed suggestions the match against their Merseyside rivals was more important. He also believes the Saints can still be in the Champions League places at the end of the season. Van Gaal said: “Southampton play better at this time and have more points at this moment than Liverpool so I think it’s good that we have to play Southampton now. “I think they have a good squad, a lot of players that I know and who were offered to us. I think they are able to come in the top four but that’s also because I believe in the management in Ronald Koeman and his brother [Erwin].” Van Gaal also responded angrily to reports that he will be handed £100million or more to bring in new players. He added: “I think it’s disgusting always writing about numbers. I don’t think that [United executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward said anything about that, I don’t think I have said anything about that. “It is disrespectful to my players and I don’t like to talk about it. I have to work with the selection I have and I have respect for my selection and I believe in my players.” Wayne Rooney will be fit to face Southampton, Van Gaal confirmed. The United skipper had a scan on Thursday to examine a possible knee problem but has been given the all-clear. However record signing Angel di Maria will not be ready to return from his injury in time for the trip to the south coast. Van Gaal described Koeman as “a very good coach” but refused to talk about their relationship since the falling-out. The United manager told a news conference at the club’s Carrington training centre: “I don’t have to describe my relationship with the trainer of the opponent… that’s more private. “We play against Southampton and we have to speak about Southampton not speak about the coach.” Koeman took a similar line, saying: “The game is Southampton v Manchester Untied and the game needs that attention and not the attention about both managers because that’s private. “That was a working problem and I have to explain like that. “It’s not an issue because it is eight or nine years ago and now I prefer to talk about the game.” Asked about the relationship now, Koeman added: “Good. If we see each other we shake hands and that’s enough. “He’s a great coach. He needs time, he will get the time of the club. Koeman, now Southampton manager, worked under Van Gaal at Barcelona but the pair fell out when they were at Ajax in 2004, when Koeman was coach and Van Gaal the technical director. They shake hands on meeting now, according to Koeman, but Van Gaal referred to his former protege as “weak” in his autobiography and the closeness they once had never returned. Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal will cross swords with fellow Dutchman and his former assistant Ronald Koeman on Monday – but both managers have declared their personal relationship to be “private”. Press Association
Olivier Giroud scored his first Premier League goal for Arsenal as the Gunners came from behind to beat West Ham.West Ham took the lead against the run of play when Mohamed Diame beat Vito Mannone with a curling shot.Giroud equalised before the break when he poked in Lukas Podolski’s cross at the near post.Kevin Nolan missed two chances for the hosts and was made to pay when Theo Walcott came off the bench to make it 2-1 with Santi Cazorla hitting a third.Walcott, who replaced the disappointing Gervinho, helped the Gunners take advantage in the last half hour as West Ham tired. But having been on top for large parts of the game, it was no more than Arsene Wenger’s team deserved as they extended their unbeaten record against the Hammers to nine games and moved to fifth in the Premier League table. Sam Allardyce’s side had to defend stoutly throughout the game but they came up against a midfield again run by the impressive Cazorla.And their disappointment in losing their first Premier League home game of the season was compounded by an injury to forward Ricardo Vaz Te, who went off with a suspected dislocated shoulder.Walcott and Cazorla’s late goals in the space of six minutes gave the scoreline added gloss as Andy Carroll caused concern in the visitors’ defence on the striker’s first start since suffering a hamstring injury.But the result was the perfect response to the Gunners’ defeat by Chelsea last weekend and means that is the only league defeat of their season so far.Carroll’s value was also underlined when he spent much of the first 20 minutes bolstering the Hammers defence as Arsenal wasted a number of promising opportunities. Giroud almost scored in the first two minutes when Jussi Jaaskelainen tipped his shot round the post and Carroll blocked the French striker’s goal-bound header later in the first half.So when West Ham’s goal came on 21 minutes it was something of a surprise. Diame was fed by George McCartney down the left and the Senegalese player skipped past Aaron Ramsey before curling a delightful finish into the far corner for his first Hammers goal.Referee Phil Dowd booked the midfielder for his celebration and perhaps Diame was fortunate to stay on the field soon after when he clattered Mikel Arteta.Then, just as Carroll began to become more influential in the attacking half, Diame had his pocket picked in midfield leading to the equaliser.The ball was swept to Podolski on the left and Giroud burst to the near post to tuck in the German’s cross for a true poacher’s goal. Having got themselves back on level terms, Arsenal took time to warm to a similarly attacking theme as the first period.By that stage, Carroll had almost made it 2-1 but his header from a long diagonal ball was just wide with Vito Mannone beaten to the delivery, while Nolan wasted a great chance when clean through.As Arsenal began to assert their authority on the game, Walcott latched onto Giroud’s through ball just 16 minutes after coming on to score his fourth goal of the season with a precise near-post shot.Another chance fell to Nolan, but he fired over from the edge of the penalty box, and that miss proved costly once Cazorla smashed in Arsenal’s third from 20 yards to cap a superb individual performance.
Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores has told his side he wants to finish their FA Cup fifth-round tie against Leeds at the first attempt.The Hornets welcome Leeds to Vicarage Road on Saturday looking to continue a memorable season which, aside from making progress in the cup, also sees them pushing hard for a finish in the top half of the Barclays Premier League.Watford are currently ninth in the table but have a potentially key run of fixtures coming up which sees them play fellow promoted side Bournemouth before facing five successive matches against top-10 sides in Manchester United, Leicester, West Ham, Stoke and Arsenal. Prior to those games Watford take on Leeds in the cup, and Flores is keen to complete the job at the first time of asking.“We do not want a replay, we just want to win,” said the Spaniard.Leeds are 16th in the Sky Bet Championship table and their only win in their last four games was last month’s 2-1 triumph over Bolton in the fourth round of the FA Cup.Watford will be favourites to go through to the quarter-finals, but Flores acknowledges Leeds will be no pushovers.He said: “I saw Leeds play in the Champions League against Valencia and saw how important that team was but football is football, it is very difficult to know what will happen in the future. Now they are in the Championship but we respect the history of the team.“For us, they have a good team, they play with power, they try to play football, they have three players in the middle who want to play well so we have to think about how we play this game.“It will not be easy, they have really good players, they will want to win.”Flores has done his homework on Leeds, but says his main focus now will be on what his own side are going to do.He said: “We are in the task to correct our shape, our system and now we are focusing more on our team than the other team, but that is not just in the FA Cup.“I always say that when we play against another team 80 per cent is for us and the other 20 per cent is for the other team.“Mostly it is about what we can do and then I will try to reduce the attack of the other team.“We have a mission for every single match – we want to win every single match.“This match is a little bit different because it is the first time where I play rounds that are just one match, it is like a final.” 1