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Saturday 1 October 2016

Arsene Wenger and Arsenal eyeing second place

Published 06/05/2016 | 09:21

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has suffered another knee setback
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has suffered another knee setback

Arsene Wenger insists Arsenal will fight for a second-place finish as his side look for a victory over Manchester City on Sunday to secure entry into the Champions League group stages.

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Leicester may have already sealed the Barclays Premier League title but the remainder of the top-four picture is yet to be completed.

The Gunners travel to the Etihad Stadium in third place, three points adrift of Tottenham in second with the same gap back to City in fourth.

Whoever finishes fourth faces a Champions League play-off before they can reach the group-stage draw, with Manchester United and West Ham remaining hopeful of crashing the party.

Even a draw in Manchester would make Arsenal favourites to finish third given they host rock-bottom Aston Villa on the closing day, but Wenger - who also revealed Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain faces two months on the sidelines with a knee injury - has his eye on second.

"We have not given up hope. We will fight until the end," he said when asked about finishing runners-up.

"(Not playing in a Champions League play-off) is our target now, to secure a position in the Champions League next year.

"If possible, to get second place and at least secure third place, and on Sunday we can achieve that. We still have two games and if we win those two games we will be all right.

Having sat top of the table at the turn of the year, a trip to face Manuel Pellegrini's City on the penultimate weekend of the season would have been seen as a potential decider for where the Premier League trophy would end up.

But, after both sides endured a poor second half to the campaign, Wenger admits there will be plenty of regrets surrounding the fixture.

Asked if there was a sense of what the fixture could have been, the 66-year-old replied: "Of course but it is still an important game, even if Leicester are champions today and we are second best.

"It is still a very important game because part of the responsibility of being professional is to prepare the future. The future of Arsenal Football Club depends on this game.

"We have regrets because we had the chance to finish top of the league, but apart from that it is difficult to compare with City you know.

"They are a team who is expected to win the league every year with the investment they have, so they must be in a similar position."

Avoiding a play-off is seen as important to Wenger, who will lose a host of players to international tournaments over the summer.

"There's a European Championship, there's a Copa America. To get our players back, we made a schedule," he said.

"It (a two-legged play-off) is absolutely very difficult because the European Championship finishes on July 10.

"If you think that you have to give at least three to four weeks of holiday to the players who go to the end (of the tournament), that means they come back at the beginning of August."

One player who will not be involved in international action is Oxlade-Chamberlain, with Wenger revealing on Friday morning the England winger has suffered a fresh knee problem after the 22-year-old had just returned to fitness.

"We have lost Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain during the week because he got a knee injury. He will be out for six to eight weeks I think," Wenger added.

"It is very sad. He was physically ready and looking sharp. He had one week's training last week, but he planned to play on Tuesday night but got injured on Monday morning.

Asked if he could make the Euros, Wenger replied: "There's no chance. I was only told yesterday. I had a little conversation with Alex as well and with our medical team. They told me yesterday that he will be back at the beginning of July.

"It's bad news. Alex was out for a while and he was not overloaded with games. You want a guy of 22 years of age to go to the European Championships.

"It's very bad. He's an impact player as well so he could have had a great contribution to England's success. England had quite a few problems up front so I think it's bad news."

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