West Ham United manager Gianfranco Zola believes his side are just four wins away from securing qualification for next season’s UEFA Europa League. The Hammers currently sit seventh in the Premier League and look set to secure a spot in the new Europa League – the revamped version of the UEFA Cup - due to FA Cup semi-finalists Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton all high enough in the league standings to all but guarantee an extra European place being available. Zola has set his team a target of 52 points to ensure a top seven finish this season. And, despite their goalless draw against West Bromwich Albion on Monday, their impressive form in recent weeks would suggest that they are capable of achieving his goal. However the former Chelsea forward will no doubt be wary of the threat posed by the chasing pack, as Wigan Athletic, Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur look set to push his side to the wire in their bid for European football next season. "I believe that 52 points will be the target we need that might take us to the Europa League so we are 12 points short,” he said. “It is achievable. We have to think in this way. We have to have targets and try everything to achieve them." Both Spurs and Aston Villa exited this year's UEFA Cup having fielded weakened teams, leading to criticism that the competition has become devalued.
But Zola dismissed suggestions that the Europa League may be an unwanted distraction for the Hammers next season, and is instead keen to achieve European qualification in just his first season of management. "For me, it is very much worth qualifying,” he said. “We haven't been in Europe for a while [since the 2006/07 season]. I played in Europe for many years as a player and I know very much how good it is to play in that kind of competition not only for the silverware you can get but also for the opportunity it gives players to improve.
"If you play abroad you always improve so I wish that we can achieve that."
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