Europa run a boost to top-four bid: Maitland-Niles

LONDON • Ainsley Maitland-Niles believes Arsenal's Europa League run will aid their Premier League top-four push at home to Crystal Palace today.

Unai Emery's men will play his former club Valencia for a place in the May 29 final in Baku, Azerbaijan, with the manager aiming for his fourth title that would earn his team a Champions League spot.

That would be an uplifting finish to his first season with the club but, if they fall short in Europe, his players still have another route to the Champions League via a top-four finish in the Premier League.

Currently in fourth place above Chelsea on goal difference, Arsenal have no margin for error in the league, but Maitland-Niles feels the team have matured as a result of their Europa League campaign.

The wing-back said: "It's a tough league in England. We're learning different methods in Europe because sometimes, we need to be more like the foreign teams and just grind out results.

"We're gelling together very well. The manager is working with a back four, a back five, so we all know positionally what to do, not to dive in the box and not to give silly fouls away around the box.

"You can score as many goals as you want but, if you don't defend properly, then the game could go either way."

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  • Arsenal have progressed every time they won the first leg of a major European tie by two or more goals. They did it again, the 17th time, when they beat Napoli 2-0 and 1-0 in their Europa League quarter-final.

Since first-choice right-back Hector Bellerin's season-ending injury in January, Maitland-Niles has made the position his own, with the 21-year-old crediting Emery for "giving him a lot of confidence".

The England Under-21 international added: "That's what you need, for the manager to pat you on the back when you don't do well.

"And when you do well, to pat you on the back even harder. He's done that throughout the whole season for me."

Arsenal also received a boost after Aaron Ramsey told Emery he is confident of playing again before the end of the season.

The midfielder, who will leave on a free transfer to Juventus in the summer, suffered a hamstring injury during the 1-0 Europa League quarter-final, second-leg win at Napoli on Thursday.

Ramsey had told Emery "maybe in two or three weeks, I can play some matches".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 21, 2019, with the headline 'Europa run a boost to top-four bid: Maitland-Niles'. Print Edition | Subscribe