Liverpool: Arsene Wenger admits Arsenal will have only themselves to blame if they fail to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Wenger’s side face Everton on Sunday in a crucial clash in the race to book a place in Europe’s elite club competition. The Gunners currently hold the fourth and final Champions League spot and sit four points ahead of fifth-placed Everton.
But a defeat against Roberto Martinez’s men at Goodison Park would leave the north Londoners in severe danger of squandering their advantage as Everton also have a game in hand.
Arsenal have already crumbled under the pressure of competing for the title after they surrendered top spot despite leading the way for a long spell. And now the tension of the top-four battle also seems to be affecting them after a run of three games without a win, including a 6-0 hammering at Chelsea.
In the circumstances, Wenger knows Arsenal can’t afford another slip on Merseyside this weekend and the Gunners boss said: “For us it is an opportunity to go up and as well an opportunity to make a distance with Everton of course. It is both.
“The target is to finish as high as possible. Where that will be at the moment will depend only on our results,” said Wenger.
On the plus side for the Frenchman, Arsenal have been boosted by the return of Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who scored 13 goals in 27 games before suffering a thigh injury in the 3-1 victory at West Ham on December 26.
“Having someone like Ramsey, who can help the team be successful, is very important,” Wenger said. “He has worked very hard in training but what he lacks is competition.”
The Gunners are seven points adrift of leaders Liverpool with six games remaining, yet Wenger has not given up hope of overhauling the leaders.
“We were a bit flat after the Swansea and Chelsea games, and what was vital for us was not to lose against City [in last week’s 1-1 draw] but at least to come out with a strong performance,” he said.
“Every game becomes vital. We have a small percentage chance of winning the title, but we have to give everything to make it possible.”
Meanwhile, Everton manager Martinez insists Sunday’s showdown is not make-or-break in the race for Champions League qualification.
“In the history of the Premier League if you had 60 points or more after 31 games you were always guaranteed to finish in the top four,” said the Spaniard, whose side boast exactly that tally.
“Now you have five teams who have done that, so one is going to be out of the top four. We have achieved the opportunity to fight mathematically for a top-four finish and that’s a remarkable achievement.
“But we are very focused on the next seven games and trying to get as many points as we can. Arsenal on Sunday is a great opportunity and a great occasion, but winning that game doesn’t guarantee you in the top four.
“In the same manner, if you lose the game you are not out of that race. There are 21 points to play for and it’s how many you can get out of those, it’s as simple as that.”
Everton have won their last five Premier League games but were knocked out of the FA Cup defeat at Arsenal in early March.
“The game we played in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup left us with a bit of a sour taste,” Martinez said.
“We are fighting with a direct rival, who we admire and respect. They have been in this situation every single season and have found a way to perform in these big games and get into one of those top four positions.”