Dundalk boss Filippo Giovagnoli has hinted he may play a weakened side against Arsenal in the Europa League on Thursday (kick-off 8pm, live on Virgin Media Two) in order to concentrate on Sunday’s crucial league match away to St Patrick’s Athletic (kick-off 5.45pm).

While a trip to the Emirates Stadium is the stand-out journey in Group B, the Lilywhites’ 1-0 defeat to Waterford at the weekend means they are sweating on securing a place in Europe again for next season.

With Stephen O’Donnell’s side having the most realistic chance of pipping Dundalk to third given they have two games in hand over them, Giovagnoli admitted that his side’s most important game this week was now the one at Richmond Park on Sunday.

The back page of The Argus on October 27th 2020

“From now we’re going to pay more attention on the league because we are a little bit distracted from the rest,” he said after the loss at the RSC.

“That’s natural because the Europa League is big and important for both the club and the players but it can distract the process as well.

“At the end of the day we have to achieve an objective and the objective is third position. This is our objective. We didn’t achieve it today so we have to do it Sunday.

“With the Europa League, it’s different. You go, you play and you try and get points but you have to be realistic you play against giants there. You do your best and that’s it but our reality is we need to get third position in the league. This is the only thing that counts.

“We were a little bit distracted today, let’s say that.”

The Italian said he felt Dundalk were the better side against Waterford but admitted they lacked a bit of sharpness in the final third.

“It’s really disappointing,” he said.

“I don’t think the result is fair at all. Waterford were just kicking the ball forward trying to find a mistake whereas we tried to build up like always, tried to play and tried to create but we were not sharp on finishing today and we weren’t really sharp on our desire to win the game.

“It was just a case of controlling the game and controlling the game and trying to find the opportunity but if you want to win games you have to be nastier and really have the desire.

“Right now, that was missing but for the next game we’re going to have to have that desire because it’s the game of the league for us. If we win against St Patrick’s then it’s probably over.”

Giovagnoli said that he felt the need to win would make his side more focused for the Pat’s game when it comes around.

“It has to be the priority mentally, not necessarily physically.

“When you have to do something or you’re not going to achieve your objective then you are more focused. If you’re thinking that you want to be safe for a big game then you probably forget what you have to do in the present but it’s human to be like that and I understand that but from now we cannot do that anymore.”

Nevertheless, the 49-year-old said he wanted his side to enjoy the occasion at the Emirates but reiterated that beating Pat’s was now more important to him.

“In a game like that you have to go and enjoy it and enjoy the day but realistically what do you want to do?

“Do you want to win against Arsenal away? We have to be realistic.

“We have to perform. We’re going to prepare the game seriously like we do always but now we have to move our focus on St Patrick’s.”

Nathan Oduwa (hamstring) and Daniel Kelly (knee) are both doubts for the Arsenal game and Giovagnoli said he did not know if they would be back in time for it.

“I don’t know. We have to see,” he said when asked about the two wingers.

“They have minor injuries that are bothering them but if you risk them then they could be out for the entire season.

“It’s not only them. We had more people who didn’t start today because of minor things. We had to leave Cleary out. I have Hoare coming back. Pat McEleney couldn’t start today because he has a problem with his knee. We have a few things but that’s not an excuse. We should be able to manage with those things.”

Giovagnoli is also hoping for a better week personally after being frustrated at not being able to coach from the sideline against Molde due to the fact he doesn’t hold a UEFA Pro Licence.

“It was a really disappointing week for me because I had huge problems on Thursday against Molde because they told me that I couldn’t coach and I had to stay away from the technical area. I didn’t know that. They only told me just before the game.

“The UEFA delegate was threatening me that I could be suspended so I didn’t enjoy the game at all and I couldn’t help the team. Some substitutions came late because we were not organised in the chain of command because they didn’t tell us anything but from now we’re going to be more organised.

“It was a really big disappointment on Thursday night and it was another big disappointment tonight. We had so many good days since I came here. Of course, it can’t be the best day every week and that’s fine but we’re strong and we have to manage the situation.

“Let’s learn and do better the next time,” he said.