Arsenal have one foot in the Europa League final but know they cannot afford the luxury of taking it easy in Sunday’s match against struggling Brighton as they chase a Premier League top-four berth.
Unai Emery’s team have wobbled badly in the league in recent weeks, losing four out of their past five matches after putting themselves in a strong position.
They are two points behind fourth-placed Chelsea with two matches remaining, the first at home to Brighton on Sunday and the second away to Burnley the following week but they still have two chances to reach next season’s Champions League — by winning the Europa League or moving up a place from their current position of fifth in the Premier League.
Arsenal lead Valencia 3-1 ahead after the first leg of their Europa League semi-final on Thursday.
Victory in that competition guarantees entry into the Champions League next season.
Emery, who said reaching the Champions League again after an absence of two seasons is the club’s “first objective”, is aware that he is not in control of the situation.
“We need to win the next match and if we win against Brighton we are going to the last match against Burnley with the possibility to be in the top four,” he said. “It’s not in our hands, but we need to win our matches and the first is Sunday. It’s not easy to win each match, for us and for other teams, but the focus for us is to win against Brighton for different situations.”
“We are going to play the last match at home and we want to finish at the Emirates with a victory. The first objective is to finish in the top four and it will give us the chance.”
Emery confirmed earlier this week that the injured Aaron Ramsey, leaving for Juventus at the end of the season, would not feature again for the club, while veteran goalkeeper Peter Cech is retiring.
The Arsenal boss conceded that qualifying for the Champions League through the league would be tough with third-placed Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester United also in the mix.
But despite recent hiccups, he is happy with his first season in charge at the Emirates.
“Our progress I think — when we started the season we lost against Man City and Chelsea and we worked for this process, little by little and at the end of the season now we are with this possibility. I think when we started we would have been happy to have today these two opportunities in the Premier League and Europa League to reach our target.”
Brighton, who themselves have plenty to play for as they scramble to ensure Premier League survival, have drawn two of their past three matches.
They are on 35 points, four clear of Cardiff, who are in the third and final relegation spot.
“We’ve shown a reaction to that slump in form, and hopefully we can continue that at the Emirates on Sunday,” said striker Glenn Murray.