Arsene Wenger admits Barcelona’s shock Champions League exit at the hands of Roma should act as a warning to his Arsenal players in Russia.
The Gunners take on CSKA Moscow in the second leg of their Europa League quarter-final tonight, holding a commanding 4-1 lead from the first leg at the Emirates Stadium last week.
While that result leaves Arsenal strong favourites to reach the final four, Barcelona surrendered the same advantage as they lost 3-0 at Roma to crash out of the Champions League on away goals.
Veteran CSKA defender Aleksei Berezutski admitted the hosts would need a “miracle” to replicate Roma’s heroics, but Wenger, pictured, still wants his players to head into the match with their minds on the job at hand.
“It can happen in the game, that is why we love football, it is unpredictable,” he said.
“In every game, everything is questioned again. It is new every time. We are in a position where I don’t think we are under threat of complacency, it is an important target for us to go as far as possible.
“(Roma’s comeback) may be a warning for us but let us not go overboard as well. Yes, we have a big job to do but we are in a strong position and it is how we approach the game that will be vital tomorrow.”
Defender Shkodran Mustafi echoed the comments of his manager and he feels Barcelona’s capitulation came at a good time for Arsenal as they are preparing for the second leg.
“I think it came as perfect timing for us,” he said. “You are never safe especially when you win at home and have the away game, you have to be very careful how you show up.
“I think the game that we saw yesterday was perfect timing for us to show us that we have to be really focused and really concentrated to finish off the job we did in the first leg.”
Meanwhile Wenger, for the first time publicly, also conceded the Europa League is now taking priority over the Premier League as Arsenal seek a return to Champions League football next season.
With a 13-point gap to the Premier League top four, Arsenal look like needing to replicate Manchester United’s achievement of winning the Europa League last year to claim a spot in Europe’s premier club competition.
“The Europa League is important for us, everyone knows that,” he added.
“We are at a stage where we focus on it because in the Premier League we have a very, very, very slim chance to move further up so the Europa League is one of the big targets now.”
Wenger also confirmed that Granit Xhaka had not travelled to Russia due to illness, joining David Ospina and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in being ruled out, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang also missing as he is cup-tied in the Europa League.
Experienced CSKA defender Berezutski admits the Russians need their own “miracle” to turn things around against Arsenal.
“Roma played a magnificent match and made a miracle,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of chances to repeat the same miracle, but sometimes miracles happen in football. Of course Arsenal are extremely motivated because winning the Europa League is the way into the Champions League, so this is their motivation.”
CSKA coach Viktor Goncharenko reckons such a comeback will only be possible if his side believe in themselves, but feels Wenger’s approach could give CSKA a chance.
“Arsenal have a philosophy and have stuck to it for a long time, for many years, regardless of their record,” he said.
“If they are losing or winning they still play to make supporters and fans happy. When you act like this, trying to cheer up the supporters, you can have some problems in the defence.
“Tomorrow’s strategy for Arsenal could be done in different ways, but they will be focusing on their attack of course. If we play without believing in yourself and without faith it is better not to play at all. We need to go to the pitch believing in ourselves and that we can make it into the next round.
“We need to change some things, but it is not guaranteed that we will succeed or fail, so will implement some alterations then see how it happens.”