Arsenal shift focus to Europa League

Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (right) and teammates in disbelief after his miss during the Premier League game against Brighton at the Emirates on Sunday. The teams drew 1-1. PHOTO: REUTERS
Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (right) and teammates in disbelief after his miss during the Premier League game against Brighton at the Emirates on Sunday. The teams drew 1-1. PHOTO: REUTERS

With top-four hopes almost gone, Gunners must win Cup to earn Champs League place

LONDON • After the final whistle, the Arsenal players trudged around the pitch for the traditional lap of appreciation to mark their final home game of the season.

The smattering of fans who had stayed back at the Emirates to bear witness to this joyless formality did at least bid hearty farewells to the retiring Petr Cech, and Aaron Ramsey and Danny Welbeck, who are leaving on free transfers, with the former heading to Italian champions Juventus.

Earlier, Arsenal said goodbye to any realistic chance of finishing in the Premier League's top four this season after a 1-1 draw with Brighton on Sunday.

The Gunners could yet make it if things get freakish on the last day of the term this Sunday - they would have to win big away to Burnley and hope Tottenham lose heavily at home to Everton to make up an eight-goal difference.

However, manager Unai Emery has accepted that the only realistic route to next season's Champions League is by winning the Europa League, with his team one step away from reaching the final after a 3-1 semi-final first-leg victory over Valencia.

Calling on his players to lift themselves ahead of the reverse fixture in Spain on Thursday, Emery said: "Our first target was (to finish in the top four) in the Premier League so we are very, very disappointed.

"But we need to keep a strong focus for Thursday in Valencia, we can still do something important."

  • Premier League talking points

  • 1. PALACE'S AWAY STRENGTH

    The Premier League table makes for interesting reading when it is divided into home and away results, especially from Crystal Palace's point of view.

    Remarkably, only Huddersfield have picked up fewer points than Palace at home this season, with Roy Hodgson's side winning just four of their 18 Premier League matches at Selhurst Park.

    But the Eagles' away form is the fifth best in the league and their win at Cardiff was just the latest example of their pace on the counter-attack.

    2. FAREWELL GAME FOR JAGIELKA?

    Everton captain Phil Jagielka was philosophical whether their 2-0 victory over Burnley last Friday was to be his farewell game at Goodison Park, although the appreciation from the crowd betrayed their sense that his 12-year stay looks set to end in the summer.

    But the 36-year-old defender, whose contract expires in the close season, was not David Moyes' only fine bit of business in 2007. Leighton Baines, another of Everton's great servants with over 400 games, is also out of contract, and it is hoped the defender, 34, can also get a fitting farewell.

    3. HAMMERS' HOME COMFORTS

    Settling into a new stadium is never the easiest, especially when it was not designed to host football games. But, while West Ham fans still struggle to call the London Stadium home, things are improving for Manuel Pellegrini's players.

    The win over Southampton gave them 31 points from their home turf this season, their highest total since they moved there in 2016.

    THE GUARDIAN

But Arsenal will need to show more fortitude at the Mestalla than they did against Brighton if they are to preserve the two-goal lead.

Arsenal came into Sunday's game after three consecutive league defeats and, despite taking an early lead through a penalty by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, came close to a fourth loss, as Pascal Gross miskicked in the dying minutes with the goal at his mercy.

Brighton had drawn level half an hour earlier when Glenn Murray converted a penalty given away in daft fashion for a tug by Granit Xhaka, earning them their first away point at a "Big Six" team this season.

The hosts' failure to beat Chris Hughton's men also meant that Chelsea, who defeated Watford 3-0, secured their place in next season's Champions League.

The Blues, third on 71 points, cannot be caught by fifth-placed Arsenal, who are on 67, or Manchester United, a point further back.

Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri also fired a warning that his team were not content to settle for just a top-four spot as the Europa League "is also a very important competition".

ALTERNATIVE ROUTE

Our first target was (to finish in the top four) in the Premier League so we are very, very disappointed. But we need to keep a strong focus for Thursday in Valencia, we can still do something important.

'' UNAI EMERY, Arsenal manager, after the 1-1 draw with Brighton on Sunday all but ended their chances of finishing in the top four of the Premier League.

Chelsea host Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankurt on Thursday after the first leg of their semi-final tie ended 1-1, and the Italian is already looking ahead to the final on May 29 in Baku, Azerbaijan, declaring his players "want to win it because we deserve a trophy this season".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 07, 2019, with the headline 'Arsenal shift focus to Europa League'. Print Edition | Subscribe