Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Arsene Wenger hails 'special' Arsenal squad

Manager Arsene Wenger of Arsenal celebrates at the final whistle with Tomas Rosicky (L) and Per Mertesacker (C) during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Arsenal at St James' Park on May 19, 2013 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Manager Arsene Wenger of Arsenal celebrates at the final whistle with Tomas Rosicky (L) and Per Mertesacker (C) during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Arsenal at St James' Park on May 19, 2013 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Arsenal Laurent Koscielny (right) celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match at St James' Park, Newcastle. Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.
Arsenal Laurent Koscielny (right) celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match at St James' Park, Newcastle. Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.
Laurent Koscielny, right, was on target minutes after the break as Arsenal claimed the final Champions League spot

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger hailed his current squad as one of the best he has ever assembled after they sealed Champions League football with a 1-0 victory at Newcastle on the final day of the Barclays Premier League season.

The Gunners arrived in the north-east knowing anything less than a win would leave them open to being overtaken by great rivals Tottenham in the race for fourth place, but Laurent Koscielny's goal in the first half saw Arsenal over the line.

Arsenal can now look forward to a 16th successive season playing among Europe's elite - providing they come through a qualifying match - and Wenger was fulsome in his praise after seeing his players end the season in searing form.

A 2-1 loss to Spurs left Arsenal seven points adrift of their north London foes in early March, since when they have taken 26 points from a possible 30 to end the campaign a point clear of Andre Villas-Boas' troops.

"They are special. I've told them many times but they've shown it in the last two months they've been absolutely exceptional," Wenger said of his players on Sky Sports 1.

"We have shown character and attitude.

"We make 73 points, that's three points better than last season.

"I've had many groups in my life and the focus, the desire to do well, was exceptional. It's one of the best groups I've had in my life on that front."

Asked if silverware now needs to be the next aim after another barren campaign in that area, Wenger added: "We want of course to do that next season, but let's not forget the consistency we have shown over the years to get into the Champions League."

Discussing his plans for squad rebuilding in the summer - when a sizeable budget is expected to be at the Frenchman's disposal, he added: "We want to have additions to the squad but keep the structure, spirit and quality of the squad we have now.

"We will be out there in a very pro-active way."

Meanwhile, forward Theo Walcott admitted the players had been unaware that Tottenham had defeated Sunderland 1-0, a result which meant a late Newcastle equaliser would have condemned Arsenal to the Europa League.

"We weren't aware of the Spurs result and we knew what we had to do, it was in our hands and we did the job," he said.

"We had to prove people wrong. We had a disappointing result against Tottenham earlier this season and it's never nice to lose to them.

"A lot of people thought we wouldn't do it today so it's nice to show them that we could do it.

"I'd like to say it's a shame [that Spurs missed out on fourth place] but it's not really."

Asked about his aspirations for the club in the future, Walcott said: "Challenging for the title, that's our next step, our next goal.

"I'm very proud of everyone in that dressing room."

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