ARSENAL manager Arsene Wenger hailed his current squad as one of the best he has ever assembled after they sealed Champions League football with a 1-0 victory at Newcastle on the final day of the Premier League season.
The Gunners arrived in the north-east knowing anything less than a win would leave them open to being overtaken by great rivals Tottenham in the race for fourth place, but Laurent Koscielny's goal in the first half saw them over the line.
Arsenal can now look forward to a 16th successive season playing among Europe's elite – providing they come through a qualifying match – and Wenger was fulsome in his praise after seeing his players end the season in searing form.
A 2-1 loss to Spurs left Arsenal seven points adrift of their north London foes in early March, since when they have taken 26 points from a possible 30 to end the campaign a point clear of Andre Villas-Boas' troops.
Wenger said: "They are special. I've told them many times but they've shown it in the last two months. They've been absolutely exceptional.
"We have shown character and attitude.
"We make 73 points, that's three points better than last season.
"I've had many groups in my life and the focus, the desire to do well, was exceptional.
"It's one of the best groups I've had in my life on that front."
Asked if silverware now needs to be the next aim after another barren campaign in that area, Wenger added: "We want of course to do that next season, but let's not forget the consistency we have shown over the years to get into the Champions League."
Discussing his plans for rebuilding the squad in the summer, when a sizeable budget is expected to be placed at the Frenchman's disposal, he added: "We want to have additions to the squad but keep the structure, spirit and quality of the squad we have now.
"We will be out there in a very proactive way."