Arsenal are not distracted by their Europa League dream, Mikel Arteta insists

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In most parts of the 2020-2021 season, Arsenal seemed to be performing better in the UEFA Europa League than in the Premier League. A situation that makes most critics of the club wonder whether coach Mikel Arteta and his boys are prepared to sacrifice the Premier League and qualification for European competition on the altar of winning the Europa League.

Currently, Arsenal are in the semi-final stage of the Europa League. They played the first leg of the round against Spanish La Liga club, Villarreal on April 29, 2021. The away game ended 2-1 in favor of the home team, Villarreal.

The result means that Arsenal are condemned to win the second leg of the round which is scheduled to kick off at 20:00 on Thursday, May 6, 2021. If Arsenal win with a 2-0 or 1-0 goal margin, the Premier League club might scale through on the away goal rule.

Four days before the must-win return leg, Mikel Arteta led Arsenal to St James’ Park to play their 34th Premier League game of the season. For the first time since April 11, Arsenal won an away game to boost their chances of finishing strong on the league table.

In the league match, 28-year-old Arsenal and Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Elneny gave Arsenal the led in the 6th minute. Arsenal maintained the one-goal lead until the club’s captain, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang stepped up to score the last goal of the match in the 66th minute.

Aubameyang who made his last appearance for Arsenal in the Europa League match against Villarreal on April 29, after about two weeks of being sidelined because he contracted malaria while on international duty with Gabon’s national team, used the game against Newcastle to end his 6-game goal drought.

Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta and the club's talisman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta and the club’s talisman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Besides the joy of Aubameyang rediscovery his ability to score goals few days before the all-important semi-final game against Villarreal, Mikel Arteta claimed the 2-0 victory over Newcastle is proof that the club is still paying full attention to the club’s progress in the Premier League.

“This game showed our focus is still there in the Premier League,” Arteta told Sky Sports. “We believe that anything is possible if you’re picking up points and we wanted to put bad results out of the way.

“We refreshed the team because we’ve played so many games. Thursday was very demanding, but the team was really committed and focused on this game and that’s why we won.

“We had a great attitude, some moments of real quality, and had total control from the start. We controlled the game and we accelerated when it was needed. The early goal gave us confidence which we needed after the defeat on Thursday.”

The 2-0 win only helped Arsenal to move from the 11th spot to the 9th spot on the league table, 12 points away from 4th placed Chelsea. This means that the shortest way to return to European football next season is to win the Europa League this season.

However, if Arsenal win their remaining four Premier League games, they would most likely get to a Europa League spot especially if the teams ahead of the club record two or three bad results before the season’s end.