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Arteta: UCL qualification harder than ever

Arsenal midfielder Mikel Ateta has claimed the standard required to secure Champions League qualification in the Premier League is the highest in European football.

After the Gunners kept themselves in contention for a top-four finish with a hard fought 1-0 win at Sunderland on Saturday, Arteta suggested the bar had been raised over the last decade.

"I think that, 10 seasons ago, it was not as difficult to get into the top four as it is now," he told Arsenal's official website.

"At the moment, there are six or seven teams who can get there - and that says a lot about the improvement of English football.

"For me, no other league in Europe has the level of the top five or six teams in England. Every ground is hard.

"But qualification is massive for us. We can't be out of the Champions League because it is the best competition."

Arteta suggested Arsenal's next four games would define the season as they look to bolster their Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup challenges.

And he said he believed the signs were good, with the north London derby at White Hart Lane on March 3 highlighted as a potentially season-defining clash.

"This is the month where everything can look brighter or look really bad for the end of the season, but we are looking OK now and we have players hitting top form," he added.

"The Spurs game will be a big derby. This one is at their place and it could be decisive - but we believe we have the quality to be where we deserve to be and we will fight until the end to get there."

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