Arsene Wenger admitted his side could not afford to lose the north London derby after Harry Kane’s winner for Tottenham on Saturday left Arsenal clinging onto their top-four ambitions.
The Gunners are now six points off the top four – and a return to the Champions League looks to be slipping away.
With the spotlight firmly on Wenger’s side, the question in our Monday debate is: Will Arsenal be able to secure a place in the Premier League’s top four?
Let us know your thoughts as our two writers discuss the topic.
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NIALL MCCAGUE, SAYS YES
Arsenal’s hopes of securing Champions League football were dealt a significant blow after a 1-0 defeat to Tottenham on Saturday.
But, although a sceptic would suggest their form and style of play is diminishing, the Gunners should seal a top four spot with 11 matches remaining. All but two of those games – against Manchester City (home) and Manchester United (away) – are winnable games and history shows they are strong finishers to the season.
In the last four campaigns, Arsenal have won or drawn an average of 75% of their last 10 remaining games and although they were shaded for fourth place by Liverpool last term Arsene Wenger’s side look a more organised outfit this time around.
January signings will certainly add confidence and boost aspirations between now and the end of the current campaign.
In Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the Gunners boast two ace attackers who are capable of scoring 15 goals between them before the middle of May. All it takes is two or three wins to gather some momentum and to allow the new players sufficient time to click – and this will kick-start more positive results and increase morale in North London.
Having no FA Cup and Champions League will keep the players fresher than their rivals, and fewer games lower the risk of injuries to marquee names in the squad. Bar Santi Cazorla, they don’t have any big injuries which is rare for Arsenal.
As it stands, Chelsea and Liverpool are vying for that fourth spot – both of whom are playing in the last-16 of the Champions League this week and have a similar run-in to the end of the season. The Gunners do have the Carabao Cup final against City later this month and Europa League action, but Wenger will not be bothered by how his team fares in that competition as he puts his full attention on the league.
The Frenchman will surely have a point to prove – and with 18 months left on his current contract, he will want to do everything he can to be playing Champions League football in his final year at the Emirates.
STUART APPLEBY, SAYS NO
“We have to continue to fight.” The words of Arsene Wenger following Saturday’s limp display, a performance Arsenal fans have become used to for many years whilst the rest of the footballing world takes a comfy watching brief, laughing at their expense and refreshing the post-match uploads page on Arsenal Fan TV in great expectation.
It’s part of the Frenchman’s job to try and move things on and seek a positive from a defeat, but in truth, the Gunners haven’t shown much or any bottle for a long time now. Not the kind, anyway, to go with such a rallying cry.
It can, of course, be all too easy to blame the manager for everything that is going wrong but Wenger, it’s sad to say after all his former glories, is at the heart of all the problems.
The failure to strengthen a leaking defence, tactical naivety (for example, remember how open they were against Liverpool earlier on this season), letting soon-to-be out of contract stars rule the roost, big game wobbles, outmuscled against the lesser sides, mystery over Wenger’s safe position in the board, fan arrest, player loyalty… the list just goes on and on.
Ultimately, nothing’s changed and change is what the Arsenal board is scared of, with the thought of sacking Wenger being central to that. What signs have we seen from the manager that he can correct his mistakes and turn it around? Very few. The reality is Arsenal won’t be able to progress until he’s gone.
It is those same issues that’ll see Arsenal fail to qualify for the Champions League for the second successive season with most fans and followers, although divided in some quarters, counting down the minutes until Wenger’s final year of his contract is up. If it wasn’t for Chelsea’s struggles, the north Londoners wouldn’t even be in the top four debate.
The caveat of recent domestic cup triumphs means the Emirates trophy room will regularly need a spring clean but Arsenal’s dining spot at Europe’s top table will be gathering plenty of dust for at least a few more years.
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