Unai Emery says Arsenal have big chance for Champions League return after three-year absence

Matt Jones - Editor 20:18 30/03/2019
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Mesut Ozil will be a key figure for Arsenal in their remaining eight games, according to Emery

Unai Emery claims Arsenal have a “big possibility” in front of them as they look to secure a top-four Premier League finish and a return to the Champions League for the first time in three years.

Having seen 19 straight seasons of elite European football since 1998, the Gunners missed out on a seat at the continent’s top table in 2017/18 after they stumbled to a fifth-placed league finish under Arsene Wenger the previous campaign.

The iconic Frenchman then bowed out after 22 years in the Highbury and Emirates hot seat in frustrating fashion with a second successive finish outside the top four.

Now under the tutelage of Emery, the Spaniard steered his side into the fourth and final Champions League spot before the international break following a 2-0 home victory over fellow top four rivals Manchester United.

They are battling with north London rivals Tottenham, United and Chelsea for the final two spots behind title-challenging Manchester City and Liverpool.

The Gunners have the easier looking run-in on paper as they don’t play another big six club in their final eight games, and Emery is confident of his team’s chances of a return to the big time.

“It’s of course our objective (the top four),” said the former Paris Saint-Germain coach.

“We have to wait. We are working and being competitive. Now, each match, we have a big possibility, especially after beating Man United, but we know it’s going to be difficult because we are fighting against big teams.

“But we are working very well and we are confident. We have chances in each match and each match is our next objective. Our next one is Newcastle in front of our home supporters and we have to enjoy it and each match, while trying to find three points.”

The 47-year-old took his squad to Dubai during the international break – at the end of which they faced Arabian Gulf League side Al Nasr in a friendly game to officially open their refurbished Al Maktoum Stadium.

The Gunners edged a closely-fought encounter 3-2 having fallen 1-0 down and been generally outplayed in the first half of the game on Tuesday.

Emery admits the top four is his priority even though Arsenal are also into the Europa League quarter-finals – where they face Serie A giants Napoli – and lifting that trophy would also see them earn a return to the Champions League, should they fail in their quest for a top four finish.

Emery, whose side return to league action against the Magpies at the Emirates on Monday night, added: “After that our second priority is the Europa League. We can play for one title and take chances in other ways to go to the Champions League.

“We are in a good moment with good confidence, with every player thinking and being in good moments physically. The players have connected here well and we are looking forward to the next matches. We have a big objective.

Unai Emery is looking to steer Arsenal back into the Champions League after a three-year break.

Unai Emery is looking to steer Arsenal back into the Champions League after a three-year break.

“The players wish to do something important this year and this break is the key to the next month for us to do that. It’s very important for us to be focused on this next month.”

Mesut Ozil captained the Gunners in Dubai and endured a typically enigmatic outing. Showing neat tricks and flicks, the much-maligned 30-year-old nevertheless drifted as his team struggled in the opening 45 minutes. Yet an impish bit of brilliance then teed up Alexandre Lacazette to put Arsenal 2-1 ahead – an advantage they would not relinquish.

And even though the relationship between coach and player hasn’t always been a healthy one, Emery said in his post-match press conference that Ozil is vital to Arsenal’s chances of a return to the Champions League.

“He will be very important for us against Newcastle and other Premier League matches,” said Emery.

“He’s a very important player especially with other players away with their international sides. We trained very well here and with no matches for two weeks to come here and play was very important. The players have a big responsibility and they work here very well.”

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