Arsenal’s quest for third place


All doesn’t seem to be well at the Emirates Stadium these days, with an increasing number of fans turning against Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. The protests are increasing and quite a swathe of season ticket holders didn’t turn up for their recent home game against West Bromwich Albion.

It might seem strange for a club that has been in the Champions League for 18 successive seasons, a feat that no other Premier League club has managed, but Arsenal are no ordinary outfit. Fans have high expectations and pay the highest prices in the land for the privilege of seeing them in action. A perceived lack of success has consequently caused the storm clouds to gather.

The Gunners haven’t won the Premier League for 12 years, since the season of ‘The Invincibles’, and the early betting for next season suggests they’re still some way from repeating that feat, with the Gunners at the time of writing priced at 6/1 to win the English top flight. Having never won the Champions League after making a hurried exit at the last 16 stage for the last six seasons, two FA Cup wins in 2014 and 2015 have gone some way to pacifying disgruntled fans despite the standing of that competition falling a long way down the pecking order in recent times.

The one thing they have left to appease the fans now is to at least make sure they reach the group stages of the Champions League next season, which will mean finishing in the top three of this season’s Premier League. That is no easy feat, with Manchester City currently ahead of the Gunners on goal difference and Manchester United five points further back with a game in hand.

Arsenal have three games left, two at home against relegation threatened Norwich City and doomed Aston Villa, but what could be the crucial game is a visit to the Etihad to play Manchester City on Sunday 8th May. A defeat there could scupper any third-place hopes and even threaten a fourth-place finish, which would at least guarantee a place in the play-off round for the Champions League.

The latter is far from ideal and would mean another two-legged tie in August, which is what the Gunners had to do at the start of the 2014/15 campaign when they defeated Besiktas 1-0 on aggregate. The team haven’t failed to finish in the top four since finishing fifth in 1995/96 and should they emulate that it would surely mark the end of Arsene Wenger’s 20-year reign.

Another factor causing disquiet behind the scenes amongst the hierarchy and the fans is the fact that Arsenal are virtually certain to finish below fellow North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur for the first time in 21 years. This is something that has never happened on Wenger’s watch and that grates. The remarkable rise of Leicester City has caused problems as well in a way, because the perceived ‘big’ clubs are seeing their story as a missed opportunity to win the Premier League this season.

In a nutshell Arsenal simply have to swat away the challenge of Manchester City and claim a third-place finish in the Premier League, otherwise we could see big changes that could have massive repercussions for the club.

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