Manchester United, Arsenal aim to secure last-16 Europa berths

Manchester United and Arsenal are hoping to secure places in the last 16 of the Europa League, while former European Cup winner Ajax and Inter Milan are bidding to qualify in adversity.

Manchester United

Manchester United played out a 1-1 draw in Belgium against Club Brugge.   -  AFP

Three English clubs -- Arsenal, Manchester United and Wolves -- and both Celtic and Rangers are hoping to secure places in the last 16 of the Europa League this week, while former European Cup winner Ajax and Inter Milan are bidding to qualify in adversity, for different reasons.

Manchester United vs Club Brugge

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side holds the upper hand following last week's 1-1 draw in Belgium, but all is not lost for the visitor given the problems goalscorer Emmanuel Dennis repeatedly caused the United defence.

United's latest financial results revealed revenues fell by almost 12 percent in the six months to December, underlining the club's need for a return to Champions League football next season.

The Red Devils cannot bank on winning the Europa League to ensure their place in next season's Champions League, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has said.

The Old Trafford side is fifth in the Premier League, three points behind Chelsea, which occupies the fourth and final berth for Europe's elite club competition.

Read | Solskjaer: Man Utd could suffer without Champions League riches

“In a cup competition you never know ... you cannot predict, you can't rely on, 'we'll win this.' There are good teams in it,” Solskjaer told a news conference.

“We're a big club, we've got good finances but the longer you're out of it, the more you'll suffer,” Solskjaer added.

“So of course it's an ambition for us to get back into the Champions League for footballing reasons, but also financially that will help the club.”

The arrival of Bruno Fernandes could provide just the spark required. The Portugal international scored his first United goal in a 3-0 win over Watford at the weekend. He also impressed in a brief cameo in the first leg.

Arsenal vs Olympiakos

Mikel Arteta's Arsenal hosts Olympiakos looking to extend a 10-match unbeaten run which has seen the team unexpectedly launch bids to reach next season's Champions League on two fronts.

The Gunners started the year languishing 12th in the Premier League, 11 points off the top four.But they now sit just four points adrift of fifth-placed Manchester United, with a top-five finish potentially enough to qualify for the Champions League after Manchester City was handed a two-year ban by UEFA for financial fair-play breaches.

A 1-0 victory over Olympiakos in Greece has also put last season's Europa League runners-up in pole position to reach the last 16 as it bids for a first European trophy since lifting the Cup Winners' Cup in 1994.

Also read | Lacazette stay not dependant on Arsenal's Champions League qualification

Qualifying for the Champions League would also be a major boost to Arsenal's hopes of keeping Premier League joint top-scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who has been linked with a move to Barcelona or Inter Milan.

“It's really important (to keep Aubameyang),” Alexandre Lacazette said at Arsenal's pre-match press conference on Wednesday. “He's one of the best or maybe he's been the best player this season for Arsenal. Obviously I hope he's going to stay.”

He added: “I think people should talk more about Auba and what he is doing in the game because he is more than a goalscorer.

“He is working a lot for the team defensively and making space for the other striker, Eddie (Nketiah) or me, and I think if we start to win more trophies, people will talk more about what he is doing for the team.”

 

(With inputs from AFP, Reuters)

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