sport

Wenger rues missed opportunity

Arsene Wenger admits that come May he will look back on this season as a huge missed opportunity for Arsenal to have won the Premier League.

Wenger's name became synonymous with success during his early years at Arsenal, but the Gunners are no longer considered realistic title challengers and they have not won a trophy of any kind in seven-and-a-half years.

The north London club welcome West Ham to the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night knowing defeat will leave them seven points off fourth-place Tottenham and some 22 points behind their former arch rivals and current league leaders Manchester United.

Despite their domination of the league, United have looked a pale imitation of Sir Alex Ferguson's former teams while despite their lavish spending, second-place Manchester City have also failed to reproduce the level of form they showed last season.

And after watching Tottenham batter Manchester United on Sunday and emerge with a draw, Wenger reflected on the fall in standards that he thinks Arsenal could have took advantage of this season.

"I saw Tottenham v Manchester United and you think (about) the difference between us and Manchester United when you see them play...," Wenger said.

"It was a fantastic opportunity (to win the league) this season. To catch Manchester United now is out of sight at the moment.

"We have to get closer to the people in front of us first before we can think that. Man United is far but there is no untouchable team in the country at the moment. That is for sure.

"It should not be difficult (to get in the top four) but it will be tough"

Key to Wenger's struggles, of course, has been the departure of Robin van Persie, who has had no problem repeating his superb form last season with his new employers at Old Trafford.

Arsenal's inconsistency has also been a major problem. Gunners fans have been put through a roller coaster of a season so far. The highs of putting seven past Reading and then Newcastle have been outweighed by the low points - home defeats to City, Swansea and Chelsea, not to mention the embarrassing Capital One Cup exit to npower League Two side Bradford.

Theo Walcott, who last week put an end to speculation about his future by signing a contract extension, said there is a lack of self-belief in the Arsenal camp and his manager concurs.

"I agree with him," Wenger said. "The players come out and think 'we could have done better'.

"But when you look at the first half (against Chelsea on Sunday) we lost goals we shouldn't lose, 50/50s you cannot lose in big games.

"You can say what you want but you have to go with a mentality in big games based on belief and total commitment.

"Last year we could win big games and on Sunday you come out of the game and think 'what is happening?"'

Wenger, therefore, thinks it his time his players to stand up and be counted.

"We want to challenge for the championship and therefore I feel now until the end of the season we have to really stand up and show our strength and character," the 62-year-old said.

"Last season we came from further behind and finished third but Chelsea are a bit away from us now. But the difference in points (between Arsenal and Tottenham) mathematically is not dramatic."

Wenger confirmed this morning that he hopes to sign two players before the transfer window shuts. Mikel Arteta and Francis Coquelin are out injured, while Abou Diaby has just returned from a long-term thigh injury.

A defensive midfielder could therefore be a priority for Wenger, who professed his admiration for West Ham player Mohamed Diame.

"He has a great presence in the games. I've seen him in games where he's had a big impact," Wenger said of the former Wigan man.

"They have many players who can be dangerous, but he can drive the midfield."