Unai Emery insists winning the Europa League is about more than just qualifying for the Champions League as he targets a trophy during his first season in charge at the Emirates Stadium.
The Arsenal head coach is more qualified than most to discuss the merits of the Europa League having won the competition in three successive years during his reign as Sevilla boss.
The Gunners became the sixth and final Premier League club to qualify for the quarter-finals of this season’s continental competitions as they overturned a 3-1 first-leg deficit to beat Rennes on Thursday night.
A Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang brace and a second Arsenal goal for Ainsley Maitland-Niles secured a 3-0 victory which sent Emery’s side through 4-3 on aggregate.
They join Chelsea in Friday’s quarter-final draw, with Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United all in the last eight of the Champions League.
"My dream goes on - my dream is to retire with a trophy in my hands... there’s a long way to go but with performances like that, we can compete."— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) 15 March 2019
Let's make it happen, @PetrCech 🙌
While success in the Europa League is seen by many as, first and foremost, a route back into the premier European club competition, Emery knows it offers much more than that.
“The Champions League is very important but the Europa League grew up a lot and now is giving every team the possibility to play in the Champions League,” he said.
“In the domestic league, like here, we have six teams playing to be in the top four. Two teams are going out and the Europa League is giving us a big opportunity also to take one way to go to the Champions League.
“And also, it’s one title. I said to the players today, I am excited about this competition. It’s not just because you can get to the Champions League through this competition.
“It’s also because it’s one title and I think we can feel the possibility to win one title, doing this way with a difficult moment like today and playing also against big teams.”
Rennes had made the most of facing 10 men for 50 minutes of the first leg following the dismissal of Sokratis Papastathopoulos – turning a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 win.
While Sokratis was forced to sit out the second leg, Arsenal were able to call on Alexandre Lacazette after his three-match ban for a red card in the previous round was reduced to two games on appeal and, having already served both of those games, took his place in the side.
Rennes boss Julien Stephan questioned that decision – as well as another possible sending off for Lacazette in north London and Aubameyang being offside for the crucial second Arsenal goal.
“On the offside, it was very clearly an injustice, it was an error,” he said.
“That goal changed a lot of things. Regarding the Lacazette decision, the commission decided that his elbow against BATE was only worth a two-game ban.
“There was a tackle by Lacazette in the first half which was borderline, for which he got a yellow.
“Then he made a challenge on (Ramy) Bensebaini which was also borderline, but the decision didn’t go our way.
“There were quite a few things that went against us over the past couple of days. It’s a learning curve for a club of our level, we don’t have the power of Arsenal.”
Sarri faces the possibility of being paired with the team he left last summer when the quarter-final draw takes place on Friday.
While that would present a mouthwatering prospect for many, the 60-year-old is keen to avoid what he believes would be a tough return to the Stadio San Paolo.
Sarri, instead, hopes to delay a potential reunion until the May 29 final in Baku.
“I prefer to face them in the final. First of all, because it means we are in the final and I am happy with that,” said Sarri.
“And second, it means that Naples are in the final, and I am happy. You know very well my relationship with the city, with the people.
“So, for me, it will be very difficult to play against them in Naples.”
Chelsea progressed to the last eight of the competition with a thumping 8-0 aggregate win over Dynamo Kiev, while Serie A club Napoli scraped past Red Bull Salzburg.
Olivier Giroud’s hat-trick inspired the Blues to a 5-0 second-leg success in the Ukrainian capital on Thursday evening.
Callum Hudson-Odoi celebrated his first England Under-21 call-up with the final goal, while Marcos Alonso was also on target.
Sarri insists France World Cup winner Giroud – who is now this season’s Europa League top-scorer with nine goals – remains a key member of his squad, despite his lack of Premier League action.
“Every time he has been on the pitch, he was able to play really very well,” said Sarri.
“As you know very well, Olivier for us is a very important player. I’m really very happy for him, and am really very happy with him.”
Manchester City will be banned from making signings in the next two transfer windows by FIFA for breaking rules related to the protection of youth players and third-party ownership, according to reports.
The club are already being investigated by the Football Association and Premier League for allegations related to youth transfers and financial fair play rules, with the latter also being looked at by European football’s governing body UEFA. That investigation could result in City being banned from the Champions League.
A transfer ban for the Premier League champions would come less than a month after Chelsea were hit with the same sanction for 29 breaches of article 19 of FIFA’s regulations on the transfer and status of players.
The west London club have already lodged an appeal against that punishment but were told by FIFA last week that the sanction would not be frozen while the case is being reviewed, as Chelsea had hoped.
FIFA have been investigating City’s international transfers for several years, although the club were cleared of breaking the rules when they signed Benjamin Garre from Velez Sarsfield in 2016 just after the Argentine midfielder’s 16th birthday.
According to The Sun, FIFA believes City have crossed the line, though, in regards to their relationship with FC Nordsjaelland and the Right To Dream football academy in Ghana that is also owned by the Danish side’s president Tom Vernon.
Last year, two players from the academy, Sierra Leone’s George Davies and Ghanaian Dominic Oduro, told Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten that they signed for City and played in youth matches before they turned 18.
Both have since left City – Davies now plays in Latvia and Oduro in the United States – but FIFA has been investigating their time with the English club.
And that investigation was broadened later in 2018 when a second Danish newspaper, Politiken, published a story that claimed City had a secret deal with Vernon to have first refusal on the best prospects from Right to Dream.
If true, that would be a breach of the rules preventing the third-party ownership of players, as City could be argued to have undue influence over another club’s players.
In regards to international transfers of players aged under 18, they are only allowed in three circumstances: the players’ parents have moved to the new country for non-footballing reasons, they and the club are based close to the relevant national border or the transfer takes place within the European Economic Area and the player is at least 16.
As well as Chelsea, Spanish trio Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid have all been punished for signing under-age players from abroad in the past. Real were able to get their ban reduced on appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport – an avenue Chelsea and now perhaps City will also explore.
Neither Manchester City nor FIFA were available for comment on Thursday night.