Arsenal ‘highly motivated’ for Villa despite fast turnaround

LONDON (AP): Arsenal has a tight turnaround in its bid to recapture the lead in the Premier League, and manager Mikel Arteta doesn’t like it.

The Gunners slipped out of first place Wednesday night in a 3-1 loss to Manchester City and now they play in the lunchtime match Saturday at Aston Villa.

Had the Wednesday match been in the Champions League, they would be exempt from playing in the 12:30 p.m. time slot.

“So I think that should apply to any competition,” Arteta said Friday at a press conference. “Following the same principle, I think you are talking physiologically, that is very difficult to turn around on that period to get the best outcome and reduce the injury risk for players.”

He called the Premier League’s scheduling decision “a bit unusual” but added that his players are “highly motivated” to bounce back at Villa Park.

City is in first place on goal difference, though Arsenal has a game in hand. The defending champions play at 3 p.m. Saturday at Nottingham Forest.

Key midfielder Thomas Partey missed Wednesday’s game and is still a question mark for the trip to Villa.

“We have to assess him again today. He had some discomfort — a little muscle discomfort,” said Arteta, adding that Emile Smith Rowe is on track to return but striker Gabriel Jesus remains out.

Arsenal is winless in its last three league games and has seen its once-comfortable lead — City trailed by eight points as recently as Jan. 19 — evaporate.

To win the Premier League title, he said, “you are going to have to dig deep.”

“Sometimes you are going to lose one or two matches,” Arteta said. “Sometimes you have to win it in the 96th, sometimes you have to play with 10 men. You’re going to have to win in many different contexts.” Sometimes playing on a short turnaround, too