Football: Europe on Gunners' radar

Both City boss Pep Guardiola (left) and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger have realised that making the Champions League would mean a reasonably successful season.
Both City boss Pep Guardiola (left) and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger have realised that making the Champions League would mean a reasonably successful season.PHOTO: REUTERS

Finishing fourth no disgrace, as Arsenal's Champions League ambition still holds

LONDON • Arsene Wenger said he was pleased his Manchester City counterpart Pep Guardiola had come to realise that fourth place was akin to a trophy in England, as he insisted it was "perfectly possible" for Arsenal to qualify once again for the Champions League.

The Gunners go into their Premier League home clash against West Ham today seven points behind Guardiola's fourth-placed side - with whom they drew 2-2 at home on Sunday.

Wenger had to drive past a handful of fans who want him out of the club as he entered the Arsenal training ground yesterday morning - one of whom was wearing a Wenger mask and holding aloft a mock fourth-place trophy.

That individual does not attach the same significance as Wenger to a top-four finish but the Frenchman continued to argue his corner.

Guardiola had said last week that "qualifying for the Champions League is definitely like winning a trophy". Arsenal have never finished outside the top four since Wenger's arrival in 1996.

The Gunners manager said: "I'm not saying that I would prefer it to the FA Cup but it's like winning titles, definitely, because there are so many strong teams.

"It's a good challenge to finish in the top four this season but I think it's perfectly possible. Certainly for 20 years, I have done it and it looked always like it's nothing. Suddenly, it becomes important, so I am quite pleased that people realise that it's not as easy as it looks, and if you listen to Guardiola, he said the other day that to achieve the top four in England is a trophy, because it's so difficult. "

The Frenchman added that defender Laurent Koscielny was out of the West Ham game with the Achilles injury that forced him off against City. Goalkeeper Petr Cech remains unavailable because of a calf problem but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (hamstring) and Aaron Ramsey (calf) could return.

Arsenal are looking for their first victory in four games. They suffered their first home defeat by West Ham in eight years when Slaven Bilic's side won 2-0 at the Emirates last season.

Bilic, like Wenger, is a manager feeling the pressure. His side are on a run of six games without a win, the last four of which have ended in defeat, including Saturday's loss at relegation-threatened Hull.

The Hammers' board responded to that by issuing a statement in support of their manager. It read: "To end speculation once and for all, the West Ham United board feel it necessary to announce that we have 100 per cent faith in Slaven Bilic's ability to lead West Ham United."

Bilic was pleased to receive the vote of confidence and reiterated that he was not worried about his future at the club.

"I don't have to read the papers to know my relationship with the board," the 48-year-old Croat told a press conference yesterday.

"It's nice to hear it but I know I have the confidence of the board. When I wasn't worried before, I'm not relieved now."

West Ham midfielder Michail Antonio and striker Diafra Sakho are expected to feature at Arsenal.

Antonio, the club's top scorer this season with nine goals, has recovered from a hamstring injury suffered against Leicester last month, while Sakho returned to training last week after four months out with a back injury.



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2017, with the headline 'Europe on Gunners' radar'. Print Edition | Subscribe