Arsene Wenger’s controversial decision to rest Aaron Ramsey backfired spectacularly as Arsenal slumped to a 1-2 loss at the hands of Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday, but the French tactician remained adamant he had made the correct decision as he revealed he was preserving the Welsh midfielder for a mammoth continental tie with AC Milan later in the weeek.
“I left him at home because I played him in the two games against (Manchester) City, without a lot of training in behind,” Wenger told his post-match press conference.
Ramsey had just come back from a niggling complaint to feature in back-to-back games against the Sky Blues (Carabao Cup Final and a Premier League tie) and Wenger admitted the dynamic midfielder’s old injury could have flared up again had he started a third game on the in a span of a week.
Brighton raced into a 2-0 lead at the Amex Stadium and while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would reduce the margin just before half-time, Wenger’s men were unable to mount a comeback in the second-half and were consigned to their 10th league loss of the season.
Wenger was asked whether he was prioritising the UEFA Europa League over the Premier League now, with hopes of a top-four finish fading fast, and the Arsenal boss nodded his assent as he replied, “Yes (it’s a sign of the Europa League’s importance), because we have to be realistic. We need two teams to collapse (in the Premier League). I can’t see that at the moment, because two teams to drop so many points is very difficult to imagine.
“But we have to give our best for as long as we can. Of course the Europa League becomes important,” the Arsenal manager added.
The North Londoners, in sixth place, trial Chelsea by eight points while fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur are a further five ahead and with nine games left in the season, it is highly unlikely that the Gunners will finish ahead of the Lilywhites and the Blues both.
The Gunners travel to the San Siro for the first leg of a mouth-watering UEFA Europa League clash with AC Milan on Thursday, while the return fixture takes place at the Emirates Stadium a week later on March 16.
Gennaro Gattuso’s men have emerged as serious contenders for the continental trophy and the clash at the San Siro as the Rossoneri billed as the favourites to progress, especially with the Gunners tottering of late.