04 Mar Wenger acknowledges significance of Europa League after fourth successive defeat
Arsene Wenger has conceded winning the Europa League has become important to Arsenal after defeat at Brighton left their top-four hopes in tatters.
The Gunners lost 2-1 at the Amex Stadium for their fourth successive defeat in all competitions, a run which saw them lose the Carabao Cup final and leaves them 13 points behind neighbours Tottenham in the Premier League.
Spurs occupy fourth spot at the moment but Wenger has been insistent in recent weeks that he wants to seal a Champions League return through league position rather than winning the Europa League as Manchester United did last year.
That now looks unlikely as first-half goals from Lewis Dunk and Glenn Murray were enough to beat an uninspiring Arsenal and give Chris Hughton’s Seagulls an even better chance of securing top-flight survival.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored a consolation goal before the break but the siege of the Brighton goal never came, as Arsenal headed back to north London still with only three away Premier League wins to their name this season.
After explaining Aaron Ramsey’s omission from the matchday squad to rest the midfielder with a last-16 tie at AC Milan on Thursday, Wenger said it showed that the Europa League is starting to take priority.
“Yes, because we have to be realistic,” he said on if Ramsey’s rest is a sign of the Europa League’s importance.
“We need two teams to collapse. I can’t see that at the moment, because two teams to drop so many points is very difficult to imagine.
“But we have to give our best for as long as we can. Of course the Europa League becomes important.”
With Europa League fixtures and a run to the Carabao Cup final, Wenger also pointed a finger at a packed fixture list as a reason for his side’s latest mediocre outing on the road – with the majority of away fans calling for Wenger to leave the club during one spell in the first half.
“We had difficulty to get going and we suffered a lot physically in the first half,” he said.
“After that, mentally as well I believe that the lack of confidence, linked with the physical aspect, made us lose some balls where they took advantage of it.
“Overall, on top of that, we made some defensive mistakes, where they took advantage of it as well.
“In the second half, it was all us. But we lacked a bit of sharpness and freshness physically, to make the difference.
“At the moment, we play too many games and are charged negatively on top of that because we lose them. So it’s difficult.”
While Arsenal’s season heads towards a write-off, Brighton are now unbeaten in all competitions since January 20.
The Seagulls have an FA Cup quarter-final with Manchester United on the horizon and broke their record of not beating a top-six side so far this season.
“What it feels at the moment is that this is a big win, particularly given who we were playing against,” manager Hughton said of a victory which takes his team seven points clear of the relegation zone.
“Our form allowed that to happen. We were good first half and might have scored another. We’ve been on the edge all season.
“Every game we come into we have to play at a level to get something. We’re definitely hitting our best form at the right stage of the season. It’s now whether we can take it forward.”