Jose Mourinho wrote off Manchester United’s chances of finishing in the Premier League’s top-four following the 2-0 defeat at Arsenal on Sunday.
Goals from Granit Xhaka and Danny Welbeck gave the Gunners a home win against United for the second successive season, and in doing so reprieved their own chances of preserving their fine record of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League in each of the past 20 years. But for the visitors, partaking in this competition is now reliant on their success in the UEFA Europa League this term.
“The top four? Impossible,” Mourinho said. “I don’t think the other clubs, who are playing one match a week, are going to lose. And, because we go with everything on Thursday [against Celta Vigo], we cannot go with everything at Tottenham [Hotspur]. I don’t think we have any chance of the top four. We have to chase the Champions League by trying to win the Europa League.”
United, who surrendered a 25-match unbeaten run in the Premier League at the Emirates Stadium, are in fifth place, four points behind neighbours City and a further one behind Liverpool who have played a game more. Mourinho’s side still have nine points to play for, the first of which is at White Hart Lane against a Spurs team eager to end their last season at the famous old ground undefeated.
The Europa League route, as has been the case in recent weeks, certainly now looks the most likely route back to the top-table of European football. A Marcus Rashford goal in Spain gave the Reds a 1-0 semi-final first-leg advantage against Celta Vigo, who would have to pull off perhaps the greatest result in their history at Old Trafford this week to progress to the Stockholm final.
As for Arsenal, their win over United gave Arsene Wenger a first competitive triumph over old foe Mourinho at the thirteenth attempt. It has also breathed fresh life into their own attempts at a top-four finish. They could overtake the Manchester club into fifth spot with a win over Southampton this week, which would place them three points behind City with as many fixtures to fulfil.