Wenger not focusing on Europa League

Arsenal's Jack Wilshere tussling for possession with Tottenham's Mousa Dembele. Like his manager, the Englishman is optimistic that the Gunners can rebound from their derby defeat and put together a good run to get back into the Premier League's top
Arsenal's Jack Wilshere tussling for possession with Tottenham's Mousa Dembele. Like his manager, the Englishman is optimistic that the Gunners can rebound from their derby defeat and put together a good run to get back into the Premier League's top four.PHOTO: REUTERS

Boss won't give up slim hopes of Champions League return despite Arsenal trailing in 6th

LONDON • Arsene Wenger will not prioritise the Europa League ahead of the Premier League, despite admitting that Tottenham Hotspur might have dealt Arsenal's top-four hopes a vital blow on Saturday.

Harry Kane's header at Wembley was enough for a 1-0 Spurs win that left Wenger's side six points adrift of the Champions League places ahead of fourth-placed Liverpool's trip to Southampton yesterday.

Failing to qualify for next season's Champions League via a top-four finish would be another hammer blow for the beleaguered Arsenal boss, whose team had to settle for a berth in the Europa League after they could only finish fifth last season.

Winning Europe's secondary club competition would get the Gunners back into the Champions League. But Wenger insisted that the top flight remains his priority even after watching Manchester United get in via the back door last season despite finishing sixth in the Premier League.

"It's a game we couldn't afford to lose, it makes it much more difficult," the Frenchman said. "But we have to fight as long as we have a mathematical chance.

"It's too early (to talk about the Europa League). Football is not about switching off for three games and switching on for one game. Man United decided that once they were in the semi-final, and we are far from a semi-final.

"It's very disappointing because the priority is to be in the Champions League via the top four.

"I'm not a big fan of the Europa League winner getting into the Champions League. It's not right but, if it is an opportunity, we have to take it."

Arsenal face Swedish minnows Ostersund in the Europa League round of 32 first leg on Thursday, with the return leg at the Emirates Stadium set to take place on Feb 22.

The Gunners do no return to domestic league action until March 1, when they host runaway leaders Manchester City four days after the two sides meet in the League Cup final.

"(Bouncing back is) the most important thing," said Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere, arguably the team's outstanding performer against Spurs.

"In the past, this team has always shown good character and we need to put a run together now and give ourselves a decent chance of challenging."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2018, with the headline 'Wenger not focusing on Europa League'. Print Edition | Subscribe