08 Mar Arsene Wenger: Arsenal aiming to take Europa League chance
Arsene Wenger insists winning the Europa League is an opportunity his under-fire Arsenal side have to take.
The Gunners face AC Milan at the San Siro on Thursday night in the opening leg of their last-16 clash.
The north London giants head into the game having lost their last four games in all competitions, including their Carabao Cup final defeat at the hands of Manchester City.
That run has also left them 13 points adrift of the Premier League top four as supporters have started to turn on Wenger once again.
The slump in Premier League form now means winning the Europa League, as Manchester United did last season, is the clearest path to returning to European football’s top table.
Wenger has called on his players to step up and do just that as they look to stop their season petering out with two months of the campaign remaining.
“It makes me think about last year,” Wenger replied when asked if having a trophy to play for was similar to last season’s run to a third FA Cup success in four years.
“Last year we won the FA Cup, we made 75 points and missed out of the Champions League by one point.
“Seventy-five points is still a very good score what we will not reach this season. This is an opportunity we have to take, yes, of course.
“It increases the pressure on it even more on this competition. At the moment, it is certainly difficult when you go through a patch like that but I believe as well it is a good opportunity to show you have the quality and the strengths.
“You can only show that when it is difficult. It is a good opportunity to show we can deal with that and as well, on the longer term, it will make the team even stronger.”
Milan sit seventh in Serie A but have turned a corner since Gennaro Gattuso took over in November and are unbeaten since December 23.
The former Milan midfielder is enjoying a fine start to life at the San Siro, so much so Wenger – 28 years Gattuso’s senior – joked he could not offer the Italian any pointers at present.
“I don’t give him much advice,” he said. “He was a great player here and he’s doing very well at moment. I’m not doing well so I can get advice from him.”
Wenger also confirmed Hector Bellerin has not travelled due to a knee injury while Nacho Monreal’s back problem means he was also left in London.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who began his career at Milan, is cup-tied with fellow striker Alexandre Lacazette sidelined with a knee issue.