Champions League qualification is a must, says Wenger
Arsenal v West Ham, Emirates Stadium, 7.45pm
Arsene Wenger: said hopes of a top-four finish are under threat.
Arsene Wenger has admitted that Arsenal must qualify for the Champions League if they are to continue progressing as a club and in previous years finishing in the top four has perhaps been taken for granted.
Everton jumped above them in the Premier League at the weekend but Arsenal could move back to fourth, at least for 24 hours, if they can defeat West Ham at the Emirates Stadium tonight.
Roberto Martinez’s side edged past Sunderland, while Arsenal came back from a goal down to beat Wigan Athletic on penalties in the FA Cup semi-final.
It is the first time since August that Arsenal have slipped out of the top four and, given that Wenger has secured Champions League football for the past 16 years, the Frenchman suggested that qualifying for the tournament had become routine but is now under serious threat.
Desire to play
Asked about the assumption that Arsenal would be a top-four side, Wenger said: “Maybe, yes, we felt anyway it was done. 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.
“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. 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. You don’t go backwards but you want to play with the top teams.”
Everton, who are two points clear of Arsenal with a superior goal difference, play Crystal Palace at home tomorrow before remaining fixtures against Manchester United, Southampton, Manchester City and Hull. Arsenal play Hull at the weekend and then Newcastle, West Bromwich Albion and Norwich.
Arsenal are set to welcome a number of players back in the coming days but many might not be ready to face West Ham. Laurent Koscielny could return to the heart of defence for a tussle with Andy Carroll, with the Frenchman undergoing a late fitness test following a calf problem.
Tomas Rosicky also faces a late test and there are doubts over Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, with Nacho Monreal expected to miss out with a dead leg. Jack Wilshere will begin jogging in training this week following his hairline foot fracture.