Arsene Wenger has secured his Arsenal future for at least two more seasons after signing a new deal with the club, but not everyone is happy about it.
Former England international and Tottenham legend Gary Lineker has made headlines after hitting out at the Gunners following the announcement, saying they are falling behind the top four clubs in England faster that Wenger realises.
“Arsenal have got a long way to go at the moment. If you ask me now whether Arsenal are going to be in the top four next season, I would say most probably not. They are further behind than Wenger thinks,” Lineker told BBC Sport.
There’s no doubting that Arsenal are currently facing their toughest test in recent times, but Lineker’s comments may well be premature.
After all, even though it has been Arsenal’s most disappointing season in recent memory, the club still won the FA Cup, and finished just a point outside the top four, with Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City just three points above them in third place. It’s also worth remembering that the club beat champions Chelsea twice this year, as well as Manchester City in the FA Cup.
The ‘Wenger Out’ crowd are, understandably, aggrieved with a fifth place finish, outside the Champions League qualification places and 11 points behind Tottenham, but while Lineker thinks Arsenal are “further behind than Wenger thinks”, they aren’t necessarily in a terrible position going into next season.
The club may find it harder to attract players or keep their star individuals without Champions League football, but a year away from the competition could actually do them good.
We’ve seen the same patterns with Arsenal for the last few seasons now: they look like world-beaters until the Champions League Round of 16 comes along, and then they suffer in the league after being knocked out.
It was no different this year – February and March proved to be the turning point in the club’s season, with the club crashing out to Bayern Munich 10-2 on aggregate in the Champions League, as well as suffering defeats to Chelsea, Liverpool, West Brom and Crystal Palace.
Leicester and Chelsea have both showed the benefits a lack of Champions League football can bring over the last two seasons, while Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool side came incredibly close to winning the league in 2014, a year in which they played no Champions League football. Time away could potentially give Wenger’s Arsenal a new lease of life in the league next year.
Of course, tying down key players Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil will be crucial to any success, but if rumours are to be believed, the club are willing to offer big money to secure contract extensions for both players.
Only time will tell of course, but missing out on the Champions League could yet prove to be a blessing in disguise for the North London club. They shouldn’t neglect the Europa League league either. The club have never won the trophy, and a run in the competition could prove a much-needed boost for their season.
It’s also true that the FA Cup victory could also see some of the immense pressure aimed at Wenger over recent months subsiding going into next year.
One thing is for sure though; Wenger needs to keep adapting his approach on a game-by-game basis if he’s to experience success in the league. He’s been guilty of stubbornness and being unwilling to alter his tactical approach over recent years, but by switching from a traditional back four to a new 3-4-3 formation following an embarrassing 3-0 defeat to Crystal Palace in April, Wenger showed that he is still finding new ways of securing results in the Premier League.
The change in formation resulted in the best run of form Arsenal experienced throughout the whole season, winning 7 of their 8 remaining league games, as well as the FA Cup final and semi-final. The change shows that Wenger remains one of the most tactically astute managers in the top flight, but he’ll need to keep showing similar flexibility if he has any chance of climbing the league and winning over despondent Arsenal fans.
He’s still got plenty to offer Arsenal, and next season could see Wenger prove many of his doubters wrong – Lineker included.