Wenger happy to rely on strength of current squad


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The Independent Football

Arsène Wenger feels third place in the Premier League would be just reward for his squad's strength. The Arsenal manager heads to West Bromwich Albion today knowing destiny is once again in his team's hands, with victory guaranteeing automatic qualification for the Champions' League.

Given a disastrous start to the domestic season which saw four defeats from seven matches – including a humiliating 8-2 thrashing at Manchester United – to be in this position is an impressive achievement. Both Tottenham and Arsenal can point to opportunities missed in their attempts to sew up third place ahead of what is set to be a nail-biting final day, but Wenger feels the way his squad responded through such testing times is a testament to their character.

"It will be a great achievement if we manage to do it [achieve third place]. I believe it would be reward for a group which has exceptional strength," Wenger said.

"They have come through some difficult times, always recovered and always battled. There is even more uncertainty because fourth place is not this time necessarily in the Champions' League. Let's make sure we win our game and finish third – that is the only answer we can give.

"To do that of course you need a full, committed performance from everybody. On that front I am quite sure we will get that from our players, and then we will have a very good chance to do it."

Arsenal lost their right-back Bacary Sagna to a broken leg during last weekend's thrilling 3-3 draw with Norwich. Fellow Frenchman Francis Coquelin stepped in against the Canaries, and the 20-year-old would relish another chance to impress today, which will be the final game for Arsenal's long-serving Arsenal assistant manager, Pat Rice, before his retirement.

"It is the last game of the season and all the staff and all of the players want to end up with this third place," Coquelin said. "It [third place] could have been finished after Norwich, because after the other results we could have qualified for the Champions' League, but we drew and now we need to win this game.

"When we came back to the training ground on Monday everybody knew it would be a tough week. Everybody is concentrating on West Brom and I think everybody is ready to fight for this third place."

Wenger has already moved to strengthen his squad for next season with the £10 million signing of the Cologne striker Lukas Podolski. But the Arsenal manager does not feel it will be a summer of much major transfer activity for the club.

"Our job will be focused on inside [matters] now we have Podolski," he said. "That means to get Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby back in a healthy situation, and then I believe we have quite a big squad. It will be [our intention] to trim a little bit and if possible add one or two players."

The England winger Theo Walcott could return to action at The Hawthorns in front of the new national team manager, Roy Hodgson, if he shakes off a hamstring problem, while the goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny is expected to feature despite a troublesome back.

West Bromwich Albion v Arsenal kicks off at 3pm this afternoon