ALL GUNS BLAZING FAN COLUMN: Top four failure could provide stimulus for title tilt next term
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As Arsene Wenger approaches the end of his 21st Premier League season, his Arsenal reign has never looked more uncertain.
Another failed title challenge, contract indecision, and numerous fan protests, have all conspired to create a divided fanbase and fractured campaign.
After the 3-0 defeat to Crystal Palace last month, Arsenal seemed to be on their knees. A lack of desire, disarray at the back and team disharmony seemed to end all league aspirations.
However, since that dreadful night, six victories in seven, has put a resurgent Arsenal back in the hunt and, somehow, there is still a chance that Wenger could extend his 20-year streak of qualifying for the Champions League.
But it’s a hard task, and no matter what Arsenal do versus Everton, it will all rest on whether relegated Middlesbrough can spring a surprise against Liverpool at Anfield, against all the odds.
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Yet, the Gunners are in a unique situation because whatever happens on Sunday, it could still be a win-win situation with regards to next season.
Certainly, another year of Champions League football would strengthen the clubs hand in new contract negotiations for current stars like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, while also offering potential incomings even more reason to pick North London as their new home.
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However, a shock to the system in not finishing in the top four for the first time in two decades, could provide the board, management and players with the perfect stimulus to pull up their socks, and realise meaningful improvement is needed for any future title push.
Wenger said during the week that has been told qualifying for the top four is ‘nothing special’ for the last 20 years – although he also said that he believed a finish outside the top four would not have any influence in the way the club will be led in the future.
Wenger is a proud man, and his record of consistent Champions League football is one which he holds dear to his heart. At the start of the season, he firmly believed he had a squad capable of challenging, and deep down he will be feeling the momentous disappointment of a club divided.
But he is right that his future should not be adjudged on whether he finishes in the top four tomorrow as one slip up in 20 years is not a disaster and the club will still be in rudest of health financially. A possible contract extension should rather hinge on if he really feels he can take this team to previously-scaled heights of Premier League and European success.
For so long, the Frenchman has been a symbol of the club, and a barometer of its fortune. That’s why, this is more than a question of whether a regular football manager should stay or go.
The relationship between manager and club possesses all the emotions which come with an intimate and lengthy love story.
The ending should be decided by gut feeling and thoughtful minds, not by the difference of a single point.
Follow Jack on Twitter @Jack95Martin.