Arsenal must seize top four spot, says Arsene Wenger

Wenger demands festive cheer as he tells his team to start 2012 in the top four

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has urged his team to gain a stranglehold in the top four during a run of winter games which he admits could define the club”s season.

The Gunners seemed destined for a poor campaign when they won just one of their opening five matches, but the squad rallied behind under-fire boss Wenger to drag the team back up the table with a seven-match unbeaten run.

That sequence only came to an end last week with a 1-0 defeat at Manchester City, where Wenger was furious to see Robin van Persie”s second-half goal disallowed for offside.

Festive cheer: Arsene Wenger has seen his team turn their worst start in almost 60 years around

Festive cheer: Arsene Wenger has seen his team turn their worst start in almost 60 years around

The festive period proved fruitful for the Gunners last term as they beat Chelsea and drew with City, and this year, having climbed to fifth place, they face much easier opponents in the form of Wolves, QPR and Fulham.

Nevertheless, Wenger knows a slip-up could cost Arsenal dearly as they are just two points ahead of sixth-place Liverpool and he has urged his team to retain their focus for the rest of the festive campaign.

“We know we have an opportunity to gain a better position on the table. It”s down to us to do our job,” Wenger said. “In the Premier League the Christmas period is vital to get your points.

“We have responded well to our defeat at Man City with a win at Aston Villa, so now it”s down to us to do the job at home and get the points against Wolves on Tuesday. Every game has its own difficulty so what is important for us is to focus on our own game and perform well.

In the hunt: The Gunners have lost just once in the Premier League since October

In the hunt: The Gunners have lost just once in the Premier League since October

“In the Premier League if you don”t focus then you don”t win, so let”s focus on our next game and try to win it.

“We have learned that you win only if you are at your best. That”s the difficult, to combine the Christmas period with focus.”

A London Underground strike has caused the Gunners to put the game against Mick McCarthy”s team back by 24 hours.

That means the Arsenal players will have Christmas Day off, but Wenger has warned his squad that they will face a tough task when they return to action at the Emirates Stadium two days later.

McCarthy came under fire as Wolves started slowly and the midlands outfit sit just one point above the drop zone having taken one point from their last two games against Norwich and Stoke.

Despite his team”s superiority, Wenger is expecting a tough game, however.

“Wolves are a side that plays good football,” Wenger said. “They always look dangerous going forward and they make it tough for everybody. They have the Mick McCarthy spirit and attitude, they never give up.

“They play a very positive game so we know what to expect. They fight to stay in the league and you know it is always an intense game against them. They are dangerous, of course, they make life difficult for everybody.”

Wenger is facing a selection dilemma in defence for Tuesday”s game after Kieran Gibbs joined the club”s lengthy injury list last week.

The 22-year-old was expected to be back before the end of the year but had to undergo a second operation on a stomach problem that initially emerged back in October.

Wenger is already without Bacary Sagna, Carl Jenkinson and Andre Santos, which means one or both of Thomas Vermaelen or Laurent Koscielny could be asked to fill in at full-back again.

Francis Coquelin played at right-back against Aston Villa last week and Johan Djourou is another possible inclusion, with the Swiss making good progress from the groin strain he suffered against Manchester City.