Champions League spot like a title – Guardiola on message with Wenger

By Dom Farrell 2 April 2017
Champions League spot like a title – Guardiola on message with Wenger

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola agrees with Arsene Wenger's belief that securing Champions League qualification from England's top flight is comparable to winning a trophy.

Wenger's Arsenal entertain City at Emirates Stadium on Sunday, with the Frenchman's proud record of finishing inside the top four during every season of his 20-year reign in London under threat.

Victory for Guardiola's men, who came back to win the reverse fixture at the Etihad Stadium 2-1 in December thanks to goals from Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling, would leave the Gunners 10 points shy of City and nine behind Liverpool, albeit with two games in hand on the Merseysiders.

Wenger placing such a high stock on finishing in the Champions League spots when his team's last Premier League title dates back to 2003-04 has become a source of ridicule in some quarters, with an increasingly vocal contingent of Arsenal's fanbase calling for the 67-year-old to step down when his contract expires at the end of this season.

Guardiola, a serial trophy winner at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, will tackle Arsenal later this month in the semi-finals of the FA Cup, but he feels sealing a return to the Europe's elite competition – City were knocked out by Monaco in a last-16 thriller this time around – would be an achievement to be celebrated.

"Here in England, yes," he said when asked if reaching the Champions League is akin to claiming silverware. 

"I'm not saying that it's more important than winning the FA Cup, but it is like winning a title, definitely. There are so many strong teams."

As such, Guardiola acknowledges Arsenal's two-decade long qualification streak will be tough to replicate when it finally ends.

"I don't know if in the past the six top teams were there like this season. In the last 10 or 15 years it was always one or two," he said.

"I think every year will be tougher and 20 years in a row is a lot to qualify for the Champions League.

"It can happen, in sport everything in sport can happen. But 20 years is a lot of years."

Of more immediate concern for the chasing pack behind Chelsea – even allowing for the leaders' shock defeat to Crystal Palace on Saturday – is the fact that six into four does not go.

Sunday's match and a midweek trip to Stamford Bridge could go a long way to determining whether Guardiola's City will be able to dine at Europe's top table next season and the manager is unsure over what impact missing out on the top four might have on transfer targets.

Guardiola is expected to face a busy close-season at City, with six senior players out of contract in June and five more returning seeing out season-long loans while seemingly surplus to requirements.

"I think you are able to seduce players not just about [the Champions League] – the salaries, the idea of how you want to play, the Premier League," he added.

"For many reasons people can accept to come, but, I don't know. I cannot answer for that in this moment."

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Dom Farrell

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