Arsenal aiming for Champions League return
Arsenal, Chelsea, Rangers and Celtic get their Europa League campaigns under way on Thursday.
Stephan Lichtsteiner admits he is hungry to take Arsenal back into the Champions League after the competition returned in style this week.
While Premier League rivals Liverpool secured a last-gasp win over Paris St Germain and Tottenham lost to Inter Milan, the Gunners are preparing to open their Europa League campaign at home to little-known Ukrainian outfit Vorskla Poltava.
This is the second successive year that Arsenal have spent in Europe’s second-tier club competition, reaching the semi-final stage under Arsene Wenger last season.
Asked if Tuesday’s action had whetted his appetite to return to the Champions League, the summer signing from Juventus, 34, replied: “I am hungry to get back to the Champions League.
“But it is a long way and we have two chances. We want to try as I am sure we want to play Champions League next year.”
Steven Gerrard insists Rangers can spring a few surprises and qualify for the knock-out rounds of the Europa League.
The Ibrox side make their return to the group stages of a European competition for the first time in eight years when they take on Villarreal on Thursday night.
“We are the underdogs in the group in terms of the opinions from outside, but in the dressing room we have a quiet confidence and belief we can cause a shock and get out of the group,” said Gerrard.
“We aren’t here to make up the numbers. If people want to underestimate us or write us off that’s fine.”
Eden Hazard was excused from Chelsea’s Europa League trip to PAOK after twice telling manager Maurizio Sarri he was tired.
The 27-year-old playmaker led Belgium to third place at the World Cup and has been in scintillating form for the Blues, scoring a hat-trick last Saturday against Cardiff.
114 – Since his Premier League debut in August 2012, Eden Hazard has been directly involved in more goals than any other midfielder in the competition (73 goals, 41 assists). Magician. #CHECAR pic.twitter.com/GsNE6tTlMG— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 15, 2018
Sarri said in Thessaloniki: “He told me after the national team (duty earlier this month) and the match against Cardiff he was a little bit tired, so I thought it was better to stay at Cobham, to have training and rest.”
Brendan Rodgers wants his players to demand more of themselves in front of goal when Celtic take on Rosenborg in their opening Europa League game.
📺 Brendan Rodgers looks ahead to Thursday’s @EuropaLeague group match.— Celtic Football Club (@CelticFC) September 18, 2018
✅ Importance of European football
✅ Vital home support
✅ Demanding more in the final third
Subscribe to https://t.co/hiI9BAztU9 to watch @CelticTV’s monthly feature, ‘In the Manager’s Office’, in full. pic.twitter.com/3mzOEGABAj
“On paper we have lots of players that can score but you don’t win the game on paper,” said Rodgers, whose team has scored only five goals in five league games this season.
“You have to win it on the field. We need to improve in the final third of the pitch and we have to take those opportunities. We have to be more demanding of ourselves.”