Arsenal v West Ham: Arsene Wenger questions if Gunners took Champions League qualification for granted

Gunners manager believes it is 'vital' that they finish in the top four despite Everton currently holding the advantage in the race for fourth

Manager Arsene Wenger understands how Arsenal could have become complacent in expecting Champions League football as an automatic right, but warned it is “vital” that the Gunners fight for their place in next season's competition.

Arsenal will host West Ham on Tuesday night looking to move themselves above Everton on the back of what was a nerve-shredding FA Cup semi-final win over Wigan on penalties at Wembley.

Wenger feels his squad - which could well see the return of both Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere in time for the final on May 17 - have the needed character to see off the Toffees' challenge and secure another crack at elite European football in 2014/2015.

Arsenal have played in the Champions League now for some 16 consecutive campaigns, an achievement which Wenger has always stressed was imperative to the club as they moved from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium if all played out under the spectre of what is now almost a decade without silverware.

 

"Maybe yes, we felt anyway 'that is done'," said Wenger, when asked if the squad had assumed they would be playing in the Champions League again.

"We have had a difficult schedule (this season) and the weight of a negative result, the mental aspect of a negative result in a big game, is massive. To deal with that is very difficult and when you have a succession of big games one after the other, if you lose the first one you are always in trouble."

Wenger has often been lambasted for regarding a top-four finish as the minimum requirement at the start of the season, above winning a trophy.

The Arsenal manager continued: "For many years I was sitting here and had to convince you that it was important that we were in the top four - now it is in a reverse position, you say to me 'you realise how important it is for us'.

"It is vital to me to do it. I want this club to play in the top level competition, and for that you want to be in the Champions League.

"What will be an advantage is our desire to play in this competition because we love the Champions League and just to imagine how much we love it will help us to achieve it.

"The pain of not having it? I would like them (the players) rather to concentrate on the pleasure to be in it."

Wenger's weary Gunners will fight for 'vital' top four

Wenger is in no doubt that the way to progress talent is for them to compete at the highest level.

"It is vital for the young players as well. You learn more by playing against Bayern or Barcelona or Real Madrid than if you play in the Europa League, that is for sure," he said.

"You don't go backwards, but you want to play with the top teams."

Wenger has yet to sign the new contract extension on offer from Arsenal, but the 64-year-old maintains "we are really focused and working very hard" on forward planning for next season and beyond.

He added: "Every day we spend time on that."

Arsenal have several fitness concerns ahead of the clash against the Hammers, who have not played since losing at home to Liverpool on April 6.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey, Lukas Podolski, Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs all need to be assessed by the Gunners medical staff.

However, Tomas Rosicky and Laurent Koscielny could be back in contention after missing out at Wembley.

Wenger accepts tackling such a physical side as West Ham so soon after the gruelling 120 minutes on Saturday is "not welcome", but remains confident his men can lift themselves.

"If we had gone out (at Wembley), it would really have been terrible. The fact that we come out in a positive mood will help us to recover. I believe physically we can cope with it," he said.

"Fatigue is an issue, but it is difficult to predict how you will be three days later.

"The mental part is so important in the physical recovery."

PA

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