Goalkeeper Bernd Leno has admitted that Arsenal are facing a “very difficult” challenge to keep their season alive, despite beating north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 on Sunday afternoon.
Despite falling behind to a stunning goal from Spurs substitute Erik Lamela, who had stepped off the bench to replace the injured Son Heung-min, the Gunners turned the game on its head thanks to goals from Real Madrid loanee Martin Odegaard and Alexandre Lacazette either side of half time.
Although the victory did not alter the Gunners’ league position, it did keep them in the hunt for a UEFA Europa League spot, as they are now just five points shy of sixth, a position which is currently held by Liverpool following their 1-0 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux on Monday evening.
However, if Arsenal were to finish outside of the Europa League places this season they would not be able to have too many complaints after a below-par first half of the campaign.
At Christmas, the Gunners, who face Greek giants Olympiacos in the second-leg of their Europa League last-16 tussle on Thursday night, were in 15th spot after a run of seven defeats in ten matches. However, a 3-1 win over Chelsea on Boxing Day sparked an upturn in fortunes.
With their form since Christmas having improved, Leno, who will be looking to represent Germany at the European Championships this summer, is pleased that the “bad atmosphere” has disappeared from the dressing room. At the same time, however, he is not convinced they have enough time left in the season to mount a sensational late charge for a top-four finish.
“We were completely lacking the consistency,” the Gunners goalkeeper told German magazine Kicker. “In [the] autumn, we had big problems, a bad atmosphere… and we turned the corner.
“Now we’re at least getting a taste of the Europa League again. [To qualify for the] Champions League will be very, very difficult.”
Whilst a top-four finish looks increasingly unlikely, albeit with the gap of ten points between themselves and Chelsea not totally insurmountable, Leno believes the Gunners can use Sunday’s triumph over Spurs to their advantage in their quest to end the season strongly.
“Hopefully, it will increase the level of confidence of the team and the belief that we can play really well against any opponent, we can beat big teams as well and just maintain everybody together with a big belief,” the Gunners shot-stopper continued.
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“We know we have to put four or five wins together in a row to give ourselves any chance of looking up in the table, but we are ready for a fight.”
Should Arsenal not be successful in their efforts to secure a Europa League spot ahead of next season via their Premier League position come the end of the campaign, they do, of course, still have the prospect of qualifying for next season’s UEFA Champions League if they win this season’s Europa League.
The Gunners are currently in a strong position to secure their passage to the quarter-finals, meaning they will be looking to go all the way and challenge the likes of Manchester United and Spurs in the quest for the ultimate prize.