Arse­nal set for drop into Europe’s sec­ond tier

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Premier League gi­ants Arse­nal make their Europa League bow this week, slip­ping into the con­ti­nent’s sec­ond-string com­pe­ti­tion af­ter nearly two decades in the Cham­pi­ons League, with AC Mi­lan also in­ject­ing star qual­ity.

Arsene Wenger’s men, fifth in the Premier League last sea­son-their first fin­ish out­side the top four since 199596 — take on Ger­man side Cologne to­day at the Emi­rates Sta­dium in Lon­don. The Arse­nal boss said his team would take the com­pe­ti­tion se­ri­ously de­spite the dis­ap­point­ment of miss­ing out on the Cham­pi­ons League af­ter 19 con­sec­u­tive sea­sons in Europe’s premier com­pe­ti­tion. “We will take it se­ri­ously but the pri­or­ity is to fo­cus on the Premier League and com­bin­ing the two,” he said in com­ments re­ported by Bri­tain’s Daily Tele­graph. “Then, in De­cem­ber, we will see, but at least we want to qual­ify for the next round. Thurs­day to Sun­day morn­ing is short so I have to think about that. But we have to win at home and you know how it is when you don’t win at home.” Arse­nal goal­keeper Petr Cech, who won the 2012/13 Europa League with Chelsea, said the com­pe­ti­tion was a worth­while tar­get. “We de­cided that it was the first time and hope­fully the last time we played the Europa League and we wanted to win it,” he said. Arse­nal’s do­mes­tic ri­vals Manch­ester United won the tro­phy last year, giv­ing them a route into this year’s Cham­pi­ons League. Wenger, whose Arse­nal side lost the club’s pre­vi­ous match in the com­pe­ti­tion to Galatasary in the 2000 fi­nal, when it was branded the UEFA Cup, is likely to ro­tate his squad, giv­ing some of his fringe play­ers game time as he ne­go­ti­ates a tricky Group H that also in­cludes Red Star Bel­grade and Be­laru­sian out­fit BATE Borisov. Seven-time Euro­pean cham­pi­ons AC Mi­lan have an eas­ier task, with ties against Aus­tria Vi­enna, AEK Athens and Ri­jeka of Croa­tia in Group D as they con­tinue their re­turn to Euro­pean com­pe­ti­tion for the first time since 2013-14. The Ital­ians, look­ing to win the only ma­jor Euro­pean tro­phy that has so far eluded them, ap­pear to be on the road to re­cov­ery un­der Chi­nese own­er­ship af­ter a num­ber of lean years.

Smart­ing af­ter a 4-1 Serie A de­feat at Lazio at the week­end, they open their group-stage cam­paign at Aus­tria Vi­enna af­ter com­ing through two qual­i­fy­ing rounds. “We are a new squad. It’s my re­spon­si­bil­ity and the one of the boss and the man­age­ment to lead this group to suc­cess,” said cap­tain Leonardo Bonucci, who joined the club from Juventus in the close sea­son. “We must stick to­gether also when play­ing in Europa League,” he told Mi­lan TV. “It’s a com­pe­ti­tion that many in the team have never played in be­fore.” Wayne Rooney’s Ever­ton will have a stern test in Group E, which also in­cludes French club Lyon, whose Groupama Sta­dium will host the fi­nal on May 16.

Other no­table names in this year’s group stage are Span­ish sides Villarreal and Real So­ciedad as well as Italy’s Lazio. — AFP

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