Ainsley Maitland-Niles insists finishing in the Premier League top four remains Arsenal’s only focus, despite reaching the Europa League quarter-finals.
The Gunners host struggling Stoke on Sunday and head into the weekend 13 points adrift of north London rivals Tottenham, who currently occupy fourth spot.
Arsene Wenger’s side missed out on Champions League football as they finished fifth last year and a return to the top four seems all-but impossible given the current gap and the fact there are a maximum of 24 points to play for.
Instead, the Gunners could secure a return to the Champions League by following the route of Manchester United last season.
Jose Mourinho’s side could only manage a sixth-place Premier League finish but won the Europa League to qualify for Europe’s premier club competition.
Arsenal have a chance to do the same and face CSKA Moscow in the first-leg of their quarter-final tie next Thursday.
But, although Wenger is likely to rest a number of players against Stoke with one eye on the visit of the Russian outfit, Maitland-Niles maintains a strong finish to the domestic campaign is the priority.
“I think our focus is solely on the Premier League,” he said.
“Obviously we want to get into the top four and we want to try and get as close to the number one as we can this season.”
“That is by taking every game as it comes, preparing right and then going out there on a matchday and showing what we have.
“We want to carry on the tradition of the club, try and end the season as best as possible to put us in the best position possible.”
Maitland-Niles enjoyed success as he lifted the Under-20s World Cup as part of Paul Simpson’s squad last year and is enjoying a fairly successful breakthrough season at the Emirates Stadium.
He featured in every Europa League game until the second leg of the last-16 victory over AC Milan and has earned plenty of praise from Wenger.
While using the Europa League to establish himself in Wenger’s first-team squad, Maitland-Niles says winning the trophy – the only silverware left available to the Gunners this season – is not the number one target.
“The players, we have spoken about it (the Europa League) once or twice,” he said.
“It is not our main goal, obviously we want to progress in the Premier League as much as possible and that wants to be our main route.”
We've completed our Italian Job â— Arsenal (@Arsenal) March 15, 2018
And that means we're through to the Europa League quarter-final 👊 pic.twitter.com/ogPYR9MQwl
“But if we do result in playing for the Europa League I’m sure that as players we will put our heads together and plan how to do it.”
Maitland-Niles could play some part against relegation-threatened Stoke on Sunday given the likelihood of Wenger shuffling his pack over the next two games.
Jack Wilshere is also fit and available having overcome the slight knee problem that ruled him out of both of England’s friendlies, while Alexandre Lacazette has recovered from a longer-term knee injury and is also in contention.