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May 2, 2014

Arsene Wenger: We've been consistent

LONDON -- Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has claimed his side are closer to the Premier League's top three sides than his critics suggest, as the Gunners close on confirming a 17th successive season of Champions League qualification this Sunday.

• Cross: Finishing fourth still has its pitfalls, Arsenal ...

Victory against West Bromwich Albion at Emirates Stadium in Arsenal's final home game of the season will cement another fourth-placed finish for the Gunners and while Wenger accepts that "success" is not enough, he believes they are not far behind their title rivals.

Heavy away defeats at Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea left a dent in Arsenal's title ambitions, but Wenger believes those setbacks could have been absorbed if they had converted home draws against City and Chelsea into victories.

"We had a good strong home record, but the restriction we had was in the big games we didn't win some of them," Wenger told reporters at Arsenal's London Colney training HQ. "That's where the missing points are at the moment because we are very close to the top. Maybe one or two wins at home would have made that difference.

"One of the ingredients we have this season is a response when everybody was writing us off. We have always responded in a very strong way, which means the mentality is strong and healthy and united inside the camp.

"We started the season with a big loss, a big disappointment against Aston Villa and we had to go three days later to play Fenerbahce to play maybe one of the most important games of the season [Champions League qualifier] and we responded in a very positive way, and we have done that all season.

"I think overall in the season we have been remarkably consistent. We have missed some vital games and that is the regret we have of the season, some turning points in the season away from home where we failed to turn up with the right performance, but overall we have been remarkably consistent.

"[We played] in the Champions League against Bayern, we are in the final of the FA Cup playing many big teams, we are seven points off Liverpool who only played one competition, so we have been consistent. In the Premier League we missed some games and we pay for it now."

Wenger again suggested that injuries to key players was the central reason why his side failed to sustain their title surge, with the return of Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil in recent weeks having a big impact on the team's performances.

"When you come out of Christmas, we were in a strong position and what you want then is to have your strong players available in March, April, February," he said. "We had too many injuries.

"It is very, very difficult -- you can have one or two but after that when you have too many injuries you always have to play the same players and that is detrimental to the efficiency of the group. The regret we have is that too many players were out at the same time between Christmas and April."

Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker insisted earlier this week that his team did not deserve a top-three finish after their disappointing results against their title rivals and Wenger accepted his observations had some merit.

"It is a fair comment because if we had just won one of these games, we would be in the top three," he added. "The regret we have of the season is that when I tell you we have been remarkably consistent, it is against the teams who did not fight for the Premier League title. Especially not away from home in some of the big games, we could not bring the points."

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