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George Graham: Europa League offers Arsenal great chance of returning to Champions League

PUBLISHED: 22:36 05 March 2019 | UPDATED: 22:36 05 March 2019

Arsenal manager Unai Emery instructs his players

Arsenal manager Unai Emery instructs his players

PA Wire/PA Images

Former Arsenal boss George Graham believes winning the Europa League would be a good way for Unai Emery's side to qualify for the Champions League.

Arsenal manager George Graham celebrates, after the team paraded the European Cup Winner's Cup through North London.Arsenal manager George Graham celebrates, after the team paraded the European Cup Winner's Cup through North London.

With the Gunners playing the first leg of their last 16 tie in France against Rennes on Thursday, victory would propel them to the quarter-finals and a step closer to lifting the trophy.

Emery is a course and distance winner in the competition having landed silverware three times on the bounce when in charge of Sevilla, and is eyeing another tilt.

Saturday’s hard-fought 1-1 draw in the North London derby meant the Gunners remained four points behind Spurs in third place, which offers a guaranteed spot in the continent’s top tournament.

With Arsenal a single point behind Manchester United, who occupy fourth place, Sunday’s clash between the pair at the Emirates is a genuine six-pointer.

Arsenal manager George Graham (c) celebrates victory with physiotherapist Gary Lewin (l) and assistant manager Theo Foley (r)Arsenal manager George Graham (c) celebrates victory with physiotherapist Gary Lewin (l) and assistant manager Theo Foley (r)

With Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Red Devils having won four of their previous five league matches the visitors will be a difficult opponent after already triumphing in North London in the FA Cup fourth round back in January.

Which is why the legendary Graham believes that winning the Europa League offers the best chance for Arsenal to rejoin the continent’s top table.

Speaking to the Islington Gazette at the Willow Foundation’s London Football Awards he said: “If they win the Europa League they’re back in the Champions League.

“He’s won it three times already.

Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane battles for the ball with Arsenal's Sokratis Papastathopoulos (right) during the Premier League match at Wembley Stadium, London.Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane battles for the ball with Arsenal's Sokratis Papastathopoulos (right) during the Premier League match at Wembley Stadium, London.

“A good season would be a top six finish for Unai Emery. An excellent season would be a top four finish.”

Shkodran Mustafi’s error when hauling back Harry Kane in the box to give away a penalty after Juventus-bound Aaron Ramsey earlier gave Arsenal lead in his final north London derby, questions have again been asked of the Gunners backline.

When the Gazette asked which defender would improve the Gunners backline Graham replied: “That’s a difficult question because all the top clubs are looking for defenders, especially centre-halves.

“Liverpool fortunately for them got one of the best in Virgil van Dyke who’s caught my eye, but there’s not many players of his calibre around.

“There’s a lack of top quality defenders.”

George Graham was speaking at the London Football Awards in aid of national charity, Willow, londonfootballawards.org

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