Mourinho says top-four spot now beyond Manchester United

Manager says Europa League route now the priority for Champions League bid

 Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck scores his side’s second goal against Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium yesterday. Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Livepic

Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck scores his side’s second goal against Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium yesterday. Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Livepic

 

José Mourinho wrote off his Manchester United team’s chances of qualification to the Champions League via a top-four Premier League finish after seeing them slip to a 2-0 defeat at Arsenal yesterday.

The United manager could not resist a dig at his old rival, Arsène Wenger, who he complained had tried to exert undue pressure on the fourth official. The pair clashed during the first half after the Arsenal manager complained to the official about a tackle from Wayne Rooney on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

It was the first time in 13 league meetings between the managers that Wenger had come out on top but the bigger picture for Mourinho concerned what he felt was the end of United’s top-four hopes.

With three matches to go, United are four points behind the fourth-placed Manchester City and Mourinho said that he was pinning his hopes of reaching next season’s Champions League rest on winning the Europa League.

United are 1-0 up against Celta Vigo from the semi-final first leg last Thursday. The return leg is at Old Trafford this Thursday, after which United will play their final three league games – against Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton (both away) and Crystal Palace (home) – in the space of eight days.

“The top four? Impossible,” Mourinho said.

“For two reasons. I don’t think the other clubs [in the race] , 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.

“Go with everything at Tottenham and it’s difficult. Without everything, it’s more difficult. Then we play Southampton and Palace. 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.”

Wenger denied that the win over Mourinho’s team meant anything special – he was concerned purely with keeping Arsenal’s own top-four hopes alive.

They have a game in hand on City, who they trail by six points. Mourinho was rather more theatrical on the subject of his first competitive defeat against Wenger.

Big club

“Arsenal’s fans are happy and I’m happy for them,” he said.

“It’s the first time I leave and they’re happy. I leave Highbury, they were crying. I leave the Emirates and they were crying – walking the streets with heads low. Today they leave with their scarves [waving in the air]. It’s a big club. You think I enjoy a big club like Arsenal not winning trophies? I don’t enjoy it. But today I tried to win.

“Arsène Wenger is not a small manager, he’s a big manager – to have that record of winning so many matches [against him] is not normal. Normal is win, lose, draw. I really don’t care about it today. No problems. We shook hands and during the game I don’t like what I never like. He puts too much pressure on the fourth official every time.”

Wenger said he started with Danny Welbeck because the former United striker always raises his game against his old club, and he saw him score the second goal. Granit Xhaka had opened the scoring in the 54th minute with a shot that deflected heavily off Ander Herrera.

“We started a bit nervous and under pressure but slowly we became better and, in the second half we controlled well the game,” Wenger said. “The first goal was quite lucky and the second goal was a great goal. I’m happy for Danny. Hopefully it gives him confidence.

“We now have a big game on Wednesday night at Southampton and we need to be calm and focused. We still have a chance [of the top four] and we need some help from teams around us. I watched the Liverpool game [against Southampton] before we kicked off and I saw the penalty that the referee gave to them. It was a very nice decision.”

Mourinho had a different take on the match at Arsenal.

“We didn’t deserve to lose,” he said. “The game was under control. They had a couple of chances in the first half but so did we and ours were the big chances. Arsenal scored and afterwards they brought the block low and defended well and coped with our attacking football.” Guardian Service

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