Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger insists it is too early to view the Europa League as his team’s most viable route into the Champions League, despite receding hopes of gatecrashing the domestic top four.
The Gunners have one foot in the last 16 of the Europa League, with a 3-0 lead heading into Thursday night’s home leg against Ostersunds, and can return to the top competition by lifting the trophy in May.
To qualify via the Premier League, however, they must make up an eight-point gap, plus a hefty goal difference deficit, and overtake at least two rivals over the remaining 11 games.
Yet Wenger rejected talk of focusing on the Europa League, describing it as “one of the priorities” rather than their main target.
“There is a long way to go still,” he said. “We first have to go through tomorrow and then see who we get if we go through. But ideally we want to come back to the Champions League through the Premier League.”
Wenger revealed that Mesut Ozil would miss the return leg in order to focus on being fit for Sunday’s Carabao Cup final against Manchester City, having been bed-bound with illness until Wednesday.
January signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who is cup-tied for Sunday, is set to start against Ostersunds, as Wenger attempts to balance keeping stars fresh for Wembley with avoiding an almighty European upset.
“We play at home so we want to win the game; it’s as simple as that,” he added.
“The results of Ostersunds in the Europa League are quite impressive, home and away, so that demands respect. It would be absolutely stupid of us to think we have a stroll; we could have a bad surprise.”