Wenger and Mkhitaryan talk up Arsenal’s European chances

Arsenal playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan joined his manager Arsene Wenger in trumpeting the message that the Gunners are increasingly committed to winning this season’s Europa League after Thursday’s stroll against Ostersunds FK.

The north Londoners breezed through their last-32 first-leg showdown on the Swedish minnows’s potentially troublesome 3G pitch courtesy of strikes from Nacho Monreal and Mesut Ozil, either side of an own goal from centre-half Sotirios Papagiannopoulos.

Being crowned Europa League winners would ensure Arsenal, who are currently languishing sixth in the Premier League, eight points adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea, a place in next season’s Champions League.

The rhetoric emanating from Emirates Stadium in recent days has suggested a concerted effort to succeed in Europe’s secondary club competition, and Mkhitaryan did little to diffuse that notion in the wake of victory.

Asked if Arsenal could win the competition, Mkhitaryan, who joined the club in January from Manchester United in a swap deal for Alexis Sanchez, said: “Why not? We have to keep fighting and in the end we’ll see where we’re at.

“We have to focus on every game regardless of this result to ensure more success. Even with the League Cup final [on 25 February], I think we have to play with the same team [in the second leg on 22 February] and win at home.”

Wenger agreed, saying: “We won in a comfortable way, and I will try to win the game again.”

Ostersunds had claimed impressive victories over Galatasaray and Hertha Berlin during their European campaign this term but found the Gunners an altogether trickier proposition.

Arsenal surged into a 13th-minute lead as a shot from the wriggling Alex Iwobi was inexplicably spilled by Ostersunds goalkeeper Aly Keita, presenting Monreal with the simple task off forcing the ball home from inside the six-yard box.

The visitors doubled their lead on 24 minutes as more comical defending ended with Tom Pettersson presenting the ball to Mkhitaryan and his cross was deflected into his own net by Papagiannopoulos.

Arsenal were in cruise control and further extended their advantage prior to the hour mark as Ozil exchanged passes with Mkhitaryan before seeing his effort squirm under Keita and over the goalline.

Ostersunds, who have been led to three promotions since 2010 under Englishman Graham Potter, had the opportunity for a stoppage-time tonic, only for Pettersson’s weary penalty to be clutched by Arsenal stopper David Ospina.

Original Article

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