Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger would “fancy” a play-off for Champions League qualification with Chelsea – but challenged his team to just concentrate on securing the “compulsory” victory at Newcastle this weekend.
The Gunners head to St James’ Park one point clear of north-London rivals Tottenham following their 4-1 win over Wigan on Tuesday night, which sent the FA Cup winners down.
Europa League champions Chelsea are two points ahead, but the statistics are so close that should Arsenal win by a two-goal margin and the Blues slip up at home to Everton, then Wenger’s men would leapfrog up into third place and with it automatic entry into next season’s group stages.
However, should the Gunners win 2-1 at Newcastle and Chelsea draw 0-0, then the two London clubs would be locked together and, under Barclays Premier League regulations, sent into an extraordinary play-off.
Wenger, though, accepts if his men fail to win at St James’ Park, then that scenario would be redundant.
“I would fancy that,” said the Arsenal manager, who revealed negotiations over signing Yaya Sanogo on a free transfer from Auxerre were at an “advanced” stage.
“A play-off exists only if win the game [at Newcastle], so let’s win the game and see what happens.
“The biggest task is to win the game and not speculate too much on what happens after because the first compulsory thing we face is to win the game on Sunday.”
A superb unbeaten nine-game league run has propelled Wenger’s men back up into the top four, when earlier in the campaign it looked as if they would struggle to be in contention.
Arsenal edged out Tottenham on the final day 12 months ago to snatch third, and history could be set to repeat itself again this weekend.
“I know for a long time that for us, when we were seven points behind, we would all be happy that it goes to the last day,” said Wenger.
“We are in a position where nobody expected us to be. We have our destiny in our hands, our fate in our hands and that’s what you fight for in the game.
“It is a game that we will now want to win but at least we fought back to be in a position where we master our own fate.”
France Under-21 international Sanogo is out of contract with Auxerre, but Arsenal would need to pay compensation.
Wenger said: “We are advanced with him, but it is not done.
“I am very confident.
“He is a young striker who is promising, and has a big talent.”
Arsenal are expected to strengthen the squad during the summer, with a reported £100million transfer warchest.
It has been suggested Wayne Rooney was on Wenger’s radar, but the Gunners boss refused to be drawn on whether they would be moving for the England striker, who has put in a transfer request from Manchester United.
Wenger stressed: “At the moment we have no interest in anybody, we have only one interest and that is of course, Sunday’s game.”
Asked if Arsenal could afford Rooney, the manager added: “That is not even a question at the moment. We have not gone into that.”
Arsenal look set to be without midfielder Mikel Arteta (calf) this weekend.
Jack Wilshere, the England international set for summer surgery to clear up a niggling ankle problem, is on stand-by.
“I have a few options. I’ve not made a decision yet because I have to see how everybody responds in training,” Wenger said.
“I will make a very late decision on that problem. First I have to wait if Arteta is completely out and after that I will decide how I build the team certainly very late.”
Striker Olivier Giroud will, though, return for selection following his three-match suspension.