Mikel Arteta has told his Arsenal stars they cannot put all their eggs in the Europa League basket as they bid to end the season on a high.
The Gunners set up a semi-final clash with ex-boss Unai Emery and his Villarreal side after beating Slavia Prague 5-1 on aggregate in their quarter-final.
And if they come through that game and go on to win the final then they will qualify for the Champions League despite being well off the pace of the Premier League ’s top four all season.
However, the Spaniard knows that is a dangerous game to play and that they have to go full pelt in the league to try to be certain of European football that way in case they fall short on the continent this season.
Arteta said: “Putting our eggs in one basket would be a big mistake.
“I love that phrase. My dad has always told me that since I was 15 years old. We cannot do that.
“The league is really important — there are a lot of points to play for and there have been a lot of changes in recent weeks in terms of the table.
“We want to be involved right up until the last match and the way to do it is to put a run together ourselves.”
The trouble with runs is that they require consistency, something Arsenal have lacked again this season.
That’s why Arteta knows results in the Europa League can’t be used to cover up their up-and-down league form.
He added: “If you look at the performances and results we have had against some of the more difficult opponents, you would say, ‘How is that possible?’
“But then for different reasons, some in details, some our own mistakes, we have conceded and given away a lot of points.
“That has put our season under scrutiny and put ourselves in a position we are not comfortable with.
“The form we have had in the Europa League has been very, very positive — we have earned a place in the semi-finals and are really optimistic about the opportunity to get into that final.
“After the positive performance and result we got against Sheffield United, to do it again the way we did it in Prague is reassuring.
“It breeds confidence. There’s a level we can reach, and when we play at that level, we are a really difficult team to play against.
“That is the bar that we have to set ourselves.”
Among the most pleasing aspects of Thursday’s win were the performances from youngsters Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka and Pablo Mari.
Arteta said: “Eight months ago, if anybody had said we were going to rely so much on Smith Rowe and Saka to get a result, you would have said we were not going to be in a strong position.
“That is our reality as well. We have to change that reality because it doesn’t go in our favour.
“With Pablo, his biggest attribute is his leadership.
“You see how he communicates. He has the qualities to make the people around him better.
“We got a clean sheet against Sheffield. That’s why I played them Pablo and Rob Holding together again, and we got another clean sheet.
“So he has now the right to play.”
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