Arsene Wenger
Arsenal are battling Manchester City and United for a place in the top four of the Premier LeagueGetty

Arsene Wenger has reiterated the importance of Arsenal finishing in the top three in the Premier League this season, which will ensure direct qualification to the group stages of the Champions League. The French manager is keen to avoid the fourth place, as it will involve playing the qualification rounds, which will mean that the season starts two weeks earlier than it should.

Apart from the season starting early, which will be a problem more so this season due to the European Championships in France that begins on 10 June and goes on for a month, the manager's transfer plans will be affected as all the top players are keen to play in the continent's elite club competition. Therefore, a fourth-place finish will not cut it as it does not guarantee a place in the group stages.

Arsenal are currently in the third place, but face strong competition from Manchester City and United, who are in fourth and fifth respectively. The Etihad Stadium outfit are two points behind, while the Red Devils are a further two points adrift of their neighbours. There are four games left to play before the season comes to a close, and with the Gunners facing Manuel Pellegrini's team on the penultimate weekend, the third and fourth places could be up for grabs on the final weekend of the Premier League season.

"Top four is not Champions League. Top three, yes. That's why it is important. What has changed is just because we want to play against the top teams and we want to be in the Champions League," Wenger said, as quoted by the Mirror.

"What has changed over the years is that the impact of the finances in the CL is not as big any more. For a period in the past the money was vital for us. But the sporting impact, the planning of the next season, of course it changes completely," the French manager explained.

"Especially when you have a big summer tournament like the Euros which is now like a World Cup because it starts on June 10 and finishes on the 10th of July. When you have to play Champions League qualifiers the European Championship is still going on."

"You can play teams in the qualifiers who are in the middle of their championship because they have started already in June. But for us we don't know where we finish. We are not guaranteed top four and we have to fight for that. Man United is behind us and they will fight for it as well. We have difficult games and so do they," he added.