x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Uefa Champions League qualification getting tougher, say Arsenal players

Kieran Gibbs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Carl Jenkinson visit Arsenal Soccer School at Dubai Sevens Stadium. Ali Khaled reports.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, right, said Arsenal were right to celebrate after beating Newcastle City given how Uefa Champions League qualification is difficult these days. Ian MacNicol / AFP
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, right, said Arsenal were right to celebrate after beating Newcastle City given how Uefa Champions League qualification is difficult these days. Ian MacNicol / AFP

Three of Arsenal and England's brightest young talents believe that the standard of the English Premier League is in fact becoming higher despite the absence of any representatives in this year's Uefa Champions League semi-finals.

"Other teams are getting better, the German league has improved quite dramatically in recent years," said left back Kieran Gibbs in Dubai yesterday. "If you look at the Champions League this season, everyone expected a Spanish team to be in the final, and the fact that it's two German teams says a lot about German football right now. Standards [everywhere] are going up rather than down."

Speaking at Arsenal Soccer School at Dubai Sevens Stadium, Gibbs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Carl Jenkinson all agreed, however, that qualification to the Champions League has become harder in recent years and expressed their delight that Arsenal have achieved that for the 17th season in a row.

Oxlade-Chamberlain insisted that while Manchester United were an "anomaly" this season, the fact that so many teams are now fighting for the three other spots is in fact a positive sign.

"I think It says a lot about English football that there are six or seven team that are really up there," the 19 year old said. "It shows how competitive the Premier League is."

Thanks to the fierceness of the competition, he admits that personal and team targets had to be recalibrated throughout the season.

"Our aim was always to challenge for titles," he said. "But when we realised we couldn't reach our goals, our new target was to make sure that we qualified to the Champions League and to maintain this club's status."

The status was maintained thanks to a sequence of eight wins and two draws in their last 10 matches, allowing Arsenal to snatch the fourth and last Champions League spot from North London rivals Tottenham.

There was no doubt to the turning point; the excellent, but ultimately futile, 2-0 away win against Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-final second leg gave Arsenal the confidence to go on that unbeaten run, especially as it came three days after a morale-crushing loss to Andre Villas-Boas's men at White Hart Lane.

"I just think that coming off the back of a result like that against a team like Bayern Munich in the form they're in at the moment, filled the team with confidence and you can't buy that," Oxlade-Chamberlain added. "To go to there and keep a clean sheet and score two goals, we were disappointed that it was not enough to make us qualify at the time, but we took so many positives from that game."

Jenkinson, however, broke ranks with his teammates in admitting finishing above Tottenham made the fourth-place finish even sweeter.

"For me it was very important that we finished above Spurs, looking at it from a fans' perspective," Jenkinson said. "The rivalry is huge and to finish ahead of [them] is a massive thing for the fans, and of course for the players too."

Certainly the extent of the celebrations at the end of Arsenal's 1-0 at Newcastle raised a few eyebrows. But Oxlade-Chamberlain is not concerned.

"People have said why are we so happy when we haven't won anything, but you have to regroup when you come up against disappointments," he said. "In a way those last 10 games were like winning a small title for us, we finished the season on a high which gives us great momentum going into next season."

Oxlade-Chamberlain says Arsenal remain a stable club geared towards success.

"Arsenal Football Club is a huge club, we've got one of the best managers in the world, unbelievable talent, a great fanbase, and the infrastructure is also there," he says acknowledging that both Manchester clubs and Chelsea will have new managers next season.

"I always say that on our day we're right up there with any team in Europe, it's just consistency that we've been lacking. Personally, it's an honour to be at the club."

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