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SPORTS

Wenger explains away empty Emirates seats before Europa League quarter-final

GOSSIP & RUMOURS By Mirror | April 5th 2018
Manchester City were in town — many Gooners were in their front rooms, staying warm [Photo: Courtesy]

It is a match to test the resolve of stay-away Arsenal fans.

They swerved routine wins over Stoke and Watford, the humbling by ­Manchester City and the formality of a Europa League second-leg win over AC Milan but a European quarter-final at the Emirates is an altogether ­different ­proposition.

When Watford came on March 11, many fans put their mums before their football team [Photo: Courtesy]

Especially when boss Arsene Wenger believes the Europa League has become harder to win than its big brother the Champions League.

Yet there is a combination of apathy and anger among Gunners supporters, borne out by the empty seats broadcast to the world for the last five home games.

Easter Sunday: He is risen... but he's not gone to Arsenal vs Stoke [Photo: Courtesy]

Wenger, again the target of protests, has done well to keep his players focused enough to reel off four wins on the bounce and he remains confident that the fans are still behind the club.

 “Let’s not go overboard,” he said, before CSKA Moscow's Thursday visit.

“We played the final at Wembley and it was half-full with Arsenal people and half-full with Man City people, so I don’t think Arsenal has a problem with its support. It’s just that Arsenal fans are ­disappointed that we aren’t going for anything in the Premier League.

Arsenal are going to be in line for a semi-final place if they win on Thursday night [Photo: Courtesy]

“There are other reasons.... They [Stoke and Watford] were not our most prestigious opponents. It was Easter. There were other stadiums which were not full.”

Well, it is not Mother’s Day on Thursday. Easter is over. And the Beast from The East is long gone. So will the stay-aways be back in their seats?

Danny Welbeck reminds Per Mertesacker why he's planning to retire in the summer [Photo: Courtesy]

“The target for us is not to count the fans in the stand,” Wenger continued. “The target for us is to focus on our ­performance and accept the public judgement. We have to do our job and not be concerned about anything else. Our job is to perform on the pitch and play well. All the rest? We will deal with it. It is as simple as that.”

Arsenal take on a team third in their domestic league and in good form, having won five of their last six.

CSKA Moscow get a feel for the Emirates — how full will these stands be on the night? [Photo: Courtesy]

Whereas the Gunners have played 10 games over seven months to get to the last 16, the Russians parachuted into the last-32 after a Champions League campaign that saw them lose 4-1 and 2-1 to Manchester United.

Wenger believes the carrot of a place in the Champions League for its eventual winners has made the Europa League the toughest nut of all to crack.

“I believe the level of the Europa League has gone up,” he said. “If you look at the teams who were ­involved, and even some teams who went out, like Dortmund, it is more difficult than ever before – especially as there is more focus on it now you can qualify for the Champions League.

Leicester flop Ahmed Musa, left, is set to start for the visitors [Photo: Courtesy]

“In some big leagues it is more and more difficult to qualify automatically for the Champions League so teams ­become more focused on the Europa League.”

The match takes place against a backdrop of diplomatic tension ­between the UK and Russia.

Wenger is hoping the 500 ­travelling Moscow fans are accommodated peacefully and that Arsenal’s supporters are treated likewise at the second leg.

“It looks as though ­diplomatic relations between ­England and Russia at the ­moment are a little bit complicated,” the Frenchman said. “I just hope it won’t affect both ties and that it will not affect the supporters — not the Russian ­people who come here and not for English people who travel there.”

PROBABLE TEAMS

ARSENAL (4-2-3-1) Cech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Ramsey, Xhaka; Ozil, Wilshere, Mkhitaryan; Lacazette.

CSKA MOSCOW (3-1-4-2) Akinfeev; V Berezutski, Ignashevich, A Berezutski; Natkho; Shchennikov, Kuchayev, Dzagoev, Golovin; Musa, Wernbloom.

Referee: Pavel Kralovec (Czech Republic)

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