Saturday 20 October 2018

'Europa League can save Arsenal season'

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Getty Images
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Getty Images

Jeremy Wilson

Arsene Wenger's Arsenal future may hinge on beating Atletico Madrid after his team received the worst possible draw yesterday for their Europa League semi-final.

Striker Alexandre Lacazette had suggested immediately after Thursday's 6-3 aggregate quarter-final win against CSKA Moscow that there was a feeling within Arsenal's squad that winning the Europa League could keep Wenger as manager, and the players must now achieve that feat the hard way. Diego Simeone's Atletico are Europa League favourites after twice reaching the Champions League final and also winning La Liga over recent seasons.

There was a theory that Arsenal's best chance would be to avoid them until the final, but they will instead host Atletico at The Emirates on April 26 before the second leg in Madrid a week later.

Arsenal face Newcastle away tomorrow in the Premier League and, after only arriving back from Moscow at 5am on Friday morning, Wenger is also concerned about fatigue in his squad.

After also reaching the League Cup final, Arsenal could play 61 games by the end of the season if they reach the Europa League final and there was particular concern over Jack Wilshere, who came off after taking a kick to his ankle.

"Fatigue is a little bit of a concern," said Wenger. "You look at (Manchester) City and they look a bit like that in the second-half of games recently. I do rotate as much as I can. Unfortunately some players have to play all the games.

"It is very difficult. Not only are you physically very jaded but also you are under huge pressure each time to win the game. It is mentally maybe tougher than physically."

Arsenal's overwhelming priority now will be their first European semi-final since the 2009 Champions League and Wenger hopes to use a rare clear midweek after Newcastle to give his players the chance to recover.

Wenger ignored a pre-match question about whether he would continue as manager if Arsenal do not win the competition.

The Gunners have always either finished in the Premier League's top four or won a trophy in each of Wenger's 21 completed seasons, but, with the club 13 points off fourth-place Tottenham in the Premier League, that record will end if they do not triumph in Europe.

Asked about Wenger and the Europa League, Lacazette said: "It can be the way to keep the manager because he did so much good for the club. It will save our season."

© Daily Telegraph, London

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