'Top four remains top target', insists Arsene Wenger
Arsene Wenger is confident Arsenal can survive a season without Champions League football but warned that playing among Europe's elite must remain the club's priority.
The Gunners manager has come under increased pressure after a 3-1 home loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League in midweek. A top-four Barclays Premier League finish is likely to offer their only hope of returning to the competition next season and they look set to go an eighth season without winning a trophy.
Arsenal have long been out of the title race and face an uphill battle to overhaul north London rivals Tottenham to get back into the top four. "We want to be in the Champions League," the Frenchman said. "Financially we can live with [not qualifying], but on the sporting front, no. And the sporting front is the priority."
FA Cup and Capital One Cup exits against lower-league opponents have also marred Arsenal's season, but Wenger, whose side hosts Aston Villa on Saturday, believes his players can regroup and have a strong end to the season.
"What we need is to be united and strong, and not to be destabilised by people who have strong opinions after one game," he said. "I believe what is important is that the club always goes with the guidelines we have and does not change direction every time we lose a big game, that would lead to a disaster.
"A bad period for a club is also a good opportunity to show how united and strong you are. We have a good history of that at Arsenal."
The club's regular board meeting on Thursday was attended by majority shareholder Stan Kroenke, who also watched the Bayern game on Tuesday night. Yet Wenger insisted it was very much a case of business as usual.
He said: "The meeting speaks about many things: commercial, ticket prices, long-term plans. I make my report as well on the technical side, so it was the usual thing. Of course we had no euphoria because we have gone through a disappointment on Tuesday night, but apart from that we are responsible people who know what it is to fight."
Full-back Bacary Sagna will miss out against Villa because of a knee problem, but defender Nacho Monreal is available again after being cup-tied in Europe. Despite Villa's troubles at the wrong end of the table, Wenger expects a tough test at the Emirates Stadium.
"We have to prepare ourselves for a battle," he said. "They are fighting to avoid relegation and it is a typical Premier League game. There is no easy game for anybody."
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