Arsenal manager Unai Emery has revealed he had to convince his squad of the importance of Europa League success this season.
The Gunners face off against Chelsea in the final on 29 May and a victory would seal Champions League football for the club next season. Emery's side missed out on domestic qualification after finishing fifth in the Premier League this season.
It would also be the club's first European honour since they won the Cup Winner's Cup in 1994, but Emery has hinted some of his players were not too keen on the competition at the start of the season.
As reported by the Mirror, Emery said: “The first idea I had to transmit to the players this season was that we are going for it in every competition. We know we are in the Europa League. We needed to feel its importance as a competition.
"But when we started to play the first matches, some players preferred to play in the Premier League. I explained then to every player that we needed the same focus on every competition – that I will decide when you are going to rest, or not.
"What I didn’t want was a player thinking: ‘I won’t play today,’ and yet when we arrive at the semi-final or the final you say: ‘I’m here to play.’ No. I want you here. I want you ready to play – and you will be ready to play throughout this season."
The Europa League was long considered a nuisance to major English teams due to its congested fixture list and secondary importance to the Champions League. However, the decision to reward the winner a spot in the Champions League has given more significance to the competition.
Emery is certainly no stranger to the Europa League, having won three consecutive editions during his time in charge of Sevilla. The Spaniard added: "The focus all the season is in this competition with a big focus and a big ambition to do something important. And to feel this competition like we want it.
The team has focused on this competition and is thinking about doing something important.”
While Emery will definitely be in the Arsenal hotseat next season, the future of his opponent on Wednesday is uncertain. Maurizio Sarri has been strongly linked with a move away from Stamford Bridge in recent weeks, but Emery has complimented the Italian's abilities ahead of the final.
The Spaniard said, via the Mirror: “I appreciate him a lot. He’s a very good coach. When you watch one of Chelsea’s matches, you know he’s the coach – you can see Sarri’s identity.
"When I see Chelsea, I see a good team, a good coach, a good way of playing. I have learnt watching Sarri’s matches at Napoli and at Chelsea.”