Arsenal legend Robert Pires has played up the importance of Europa League success for the Gunners this season by stating it’s the only way for the north London giants to seal a return to the Champions League.
Defeat to rivals Tottenham Hotspur last time out in the Premier League means that Arsenal are now eight points adrift of Chelsea in fourth, with that gap potentially being extended this weekend due to Arsenal’s involvement in the League Cup final.
Arsenal missed out on qualification for Europe’s elite competition for the first time under Arsene Wenger’s reign last season and a second consecutive campaign without competing in the Champions League will be seen as a major problem.
However, the Gunners have an alternative route into the Champions League ahead of them via the Europa League, where Wenger’s side already have one foot in the round of 16 stage after a 3-0 victory in Sweden last week, and Pires believes winning the competition is the only way for Arsenal to secure qualification to European football’s biggest club tournament.
Speaking to The Sun, the former French international said:
“The Europa League has to be Arsenal’s priority now, already. The objective has to be to do what Manchester United did last season – they are a good example. United won the Europa League and went straight into the Champions League – for Arsenal it is very important to get this state of mind.”
“It’s a trophy, a good trophy, so it’s very important. And this season it is the last opportunity Arsenal have of making the Champions League. Unfortunately, but if you see the table it’s very difficult for Arsenal to reach the top four.”
“I want to see Arsenal playing again in the Champions League. But it is very difficult with Tottenham, Liverpool and Chelsea all above them.”
Sealing victory in the Europa League could be incredibly difficult due to the calibre of teams who entered the knockout stages via a third-placed finish in their respective Champions League groups, with Borussia Dortmund, Atletico Madrid and Napoli amongst the clubs to take that route.