Xhaka: Race for top-four finish takes priority over Europa League bid
The Gunners moved up to fourth with their win over Watford.
Arsenal will prioritise finishing in the Premier League top four over their bid to win the Europa League, according to midfielder Granit Xhaka.
The Gunners moved up to fourth with an unconvincing 1-0 win against 10-man Watford on Monday night as Unai Emery looks to secure a return to Champions League football after just a season at the helm.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored the only goal at Vicarage Road with 10 minutes gone as Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster dallied in possession and then struck his clearance straight onto the boot of the Gabon forward who was tearing down on him.
Moments later, Hornets skipper Troy Deeney was sent off after it was adjudged by the match officials that he had caught Lucas Torreira with a flailing arm.
The win, just Arsenal’s sixth on the road in the league this season, was enough to take Emery’s side above both Chelsea and Manchester United ahead of Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final second leg against Napoli.
Arsenal hold a 2-0 advantage heading to Naples, but Xhaka insists their main focus is on securing a top-four Premier League finish.
“I think we want to stay in the top four – we want to be back in the Champions League,” he said.
“I think, for me, the Premier League is first and after if you can go to the final and take the Europa League, of course it is nice as well but for us it is the Premier League first.
“I think for us the biggest game was last night, it is always like this. We are now in fourth place, two points over United, one game less than Chelsea and one point behind Tottenham and they play against Manchester City next week. It can be a big, big weekend for us.”
Deeney’s early dismissal should have been enough to ensure Arsenal collected a rare away win but Watford were the better team throughout and hit the woodwork twice as the FA Cup finalists chased a deserved equaliser.
But, at this stage of the campaign, Xhaka believes it is all about points and not performances, and he feels the Watford result will have no bearing on what happens in Italy on Thursday.
“I don’t care if we win 1-0 or 6-0, it is the same three points,” the Switzerland international added.
“For me, it is better if you play like this and you win, than when we have played away and played better games but not taken the three points. I am happy for this performance, but most important is the three points.
“I think against Napoli it is a different game. We had a good result at home, 2-0, but it will not be easy in Napoli as you have seen with Liverpool there or Paris (St Germain).
“Napoli have a good team, especially with their fans, but 2-0 is a good result and I hope we can go to the semi-final.”
Watford were playing their first game since sealing a place in the FA Cup final with an extra-time Wembley win over Wolves.
Javi Gracia said after the game he was unsure why Deeney was sent off but will have been pleased with the effort of his players to remain in the contest.
Defender Craig Cathcart saw a shot turned onto the post by Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno – arguably man of the match – and the Northern Ireland international was proud of the team’s display.
“I don’t think this will affect us at all,” he told watfordfc.com.
“We’ve put in a great performance given the way things went in the first 15 minutes. We can be proud of how we played. It was difficult and we had to run a lot but we can be very proud of ourselves.
“We had 10 men but if anything it looked like they had the 10 men. We had more possession, we had decent opportunities to score and we’re really disappointed coming off the pitch with nothing from the game.”