Arsene Wenger wants to avoid Europa League favourites Atletico Madrid in the quarter-finals
By PA Sport
Last Updated: 16/03/18 12:14pm
Arsene Wenger would like Arsenal to avoid drawing Atletico Madrid in the quarter-finals of the Europa League, saying Diego Simeone's side are the favourites to win the competition this year.
The Gunners booked their place in Friday's quarter-final draw, which takes place at 12pm GMT, with a 5-1 aggregate win over AC Milan and could meet Atletico, who qualified for the last eight with an 8-1 win over Lokomotiv Moscow.
RB Leipzig, Lazio, Sporting Lisbon, Marseille, Salzburg and CSKA Moscow are the other six teams in the draw, but Wenger thinks Atletico - who are second in LaLiga - are the team to swerve.
"We would certainly want to avoid Atletico Madrid," Wenger said after his side's 3-1 victory against Milan at the Emirates on Thursday.
"Maybe the team that's the biggest favourite is Atletico but anyway, what I like doesn't matter too much because I have no influence.
"We have to wait and see who we get. If we get Atletico, we get Atletico."
Arsenal's latest success followed improved performances in the first leg against Milan and Sunday's 3-0 victory over Watford that between them have eased the pressure growing on Wenger and helped Arsenal move on from what he described as a "nightmare week".
The club's supporters had responded to their four successive defeats by attending fixtures in reduced numbers but the attendance against Milan, which was recorded at 58,973, was much improved.
"We were in protective mode, subconsciously, and played a little bit with the handbrake from the start," said the Frenchman, whose side trailed on the night to a fine 35th-minute Hakan Calhanoglu goal before Danny Welbeck equalised four minutes later from the penalty spot.
"When you're 1-0 down, you could see the response was in the team and when we pushed forwards, we were dangerous. We finished in a convincing way.
"For the climate around the team, it was a vital result.
"We have targets to finish as close as possible to the top four, and why not benefit from a miracle? But as well, focus on the quarter-final now."
Wenger refused to condemn Welbeck for appearing to dive to win the penalty for Arsenal's leveller but plans to give the striker his honest verdict once he has again watched it.
Welbeck went down in the area under minimal contact from the visitors' Ricardo Rodriguez and was controversially awarded the spot-kick, from which he scored.
The obvious lift the equalising goal gave Arsenal then led to further finishes from Granit Xhaka and Welbeck - on the day he was included in Gareth Southgate's England squad - securing their progress to the quarter-finals.
Milan manager Gennaro Gattuso refused to blame the penalty for his side's elimination via a 5-1 aggregate scoreline, and Wenger said: "I haven't seen it again. Do you want to accuse English players of being divers?
"There's two things: was it a penalty or not? I don't know. The Italian players were unhappy with it. I can understand that, because I don't really know what it was. After that, Danny took the penalty in a convincing way, and I will watch it again and give my honest feeling about it.
"I will give him my honest feeling about it as well (if I view it as a dive), don't worry."
Super 6 £1m jackpot
Simply predict six correct scores to win Jeff's £1 million. Enter your selections for free here.