Arsene Wenger admits it is Arsenal’s main objective to top their Champions League group after conceding the Gunners have paid the price for not doing so in the recent past.
Arsenal can secure qualification to the knockout stages for the 17th consecutive season if they beat Ludogorets in Bulgaria on Tuesday night and Group A rivals Basle fail to beat Paris St Germain in Switzerland.
The Bulgarian champions were humbled 6-0 at the Emirates Stadium less than a fortnight ago but will be hoping for a better show when they turn out at the Vasil Levski National Stadium in Sofia – a 435-mile round-trip from Ludogorets’ regular home in Razgrad.
In recent seasons Arsenal have made a meal of getting out of their group, usually resulting in a difficult clash at the round of 16 stage and therefore the main reason they have gone no further in the Champions League in seven years.
And Wenger, who could make a few changes to his side given they face neighbours Tottenham in a north London derby on Sunday, wants to ease through this time, having taken seven points from their first three games.
“It’s our prime target,” he replied when asked how important it was to top the group.
“(We take it) step by step: qualify first. We have played Paris Saint-Germain away, and play them at home to come. We have a good opportunity tomorrow if we win.
“It is an advantage because you play the second game in the last 16 at home, so you know exactly what you have to achieve at home. You have the support.
“If it goes to extra-time or penalties, you play at home. So it’s a little advantage. But if you can finish first, why finish second?
“We have paid the price many times when we’ve finished second, having to play Barcelona or Bayern Munich. So we think it’s important.”
Wenger confirmed Nacho Monreal, Hector Bellerin, Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott have all been left at home due to minor injuries and is expected to shuffle his pack with the likes of Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey and Gabriel pushing for involvement.
Meanwhile his counterpart, Ludogorets coach Georgi Dermendzhiev, admits his side will approach Arsenal with more caution having been thrashed last time out.
The reigning Bulgarian champions are unlikely to keep Arsenal from attaining the win they need to march on, having been humbled in north London, but Dermendzhiev is keen for his side to show they are better than that display.
“We will probably be more cautious,” he said.
“The difference will be that now we know better the way Arsenal play. We have seen it on the pitch and they know what to expect. We will do our best to try and play nice football.
“We have really good players, we conceded a lot of goals but some of that was because Arsenal have great players, some were because we made mistakes.”