They held the same position at the beginning of March when they were five points clear of Arsenal.
But a dramatic decline in fortunes and a resurgence by the Gunners meant they had to eventually settle for sixth position.
Carew, who netted the winner against Stoke on Saturday, feels the young players in Martin O'Neill's squad will be wiser for the events of last season and better equipped to deal with the challenges ahead.
The Norwegian international said: "I think the young players here, who had talent last season, have all turned into England internationals (Gabriel Agbonlahor, James Milner, Ashley Young).
"They have gone from being inexperienced to experienced players and being more consistent and doing amazing performances every week.
"The squad is also bigger and we have more possibilities. One player can go out of the team and another one can come in and do the same job.
"I think the run we had towards the end of last season is less likely because I think we will learn - and are learning - from last season.
"We are one year older, one year more experienced, have a bigger squad, and we have been in more or less the same situation before.
"In football you learn all the time, you learn until your career is over, and you've still not learnt everything then.
"I think we have developed as a team and have got better and I think this year we will be competing for the top four."
Carew has been on the substitute's bench in recent games but an injury to Emile Heskey gave him the chance to make an impact against Tony Pulis's team.
The former Lyon player said: "The team has been doing well and, during the season, you won't be playing all of the games.
"For the last couple of weeks, I've been on the bench and that is okay. I just keep myself fit and ready and try to deliver when I am on the pitch."