Why it is make or break for Arsenal
Arsene Wenger is in his 20th year in charge of Arsenal. The Gunners will have to deliver to keep hold of their manager and star players.
In the highly competitive Premier League, it is natural that each club goes through a lull in terms of trophies as many teams battle it out for the same crown. But Arsenal's lull has continued and then some. They haven't won the league since the 2003-04 season, and haven't even mounted a credible challenge in an era which Chelsea and the Manchester clubs have dominated.
They have qualified for the Champions League 19 successive times, but only have one final appearance to show for it. In spite of this, they have been patient with manager Arsène Wenger. The Gunners have clearly been underachievers in the last decade or so and that needs to change radically if they are to maintain their core players and manager.
Each season, they start impressively but fade later in the Premier League and the Champions League. This time, the Gunners are fourth in the league, 3 points off leaders Chelsea. They were unbeaten in all competitions until yesterday’s defeat at the hands of Southampton in the EFL Cup and most likely will finish behind PSG in their Champions League group.
However, come the month of May, it wouldn't be surprising to find Arsenal teetering towards their beloved fourth place. But this season, it could be different, and it might as well have to be.
Even though his legacy at Arsenal is undoubtedly great, it has been 12 seasons since Arsène Wenger last tasted Premier League glory. While two FA Cups have offered some respite, it feels like time is running out for the Frenchman. His contract expires at the end of the season.
Wenger himself might call it a day, with the England job beckoning or Stan Kroenke, the majority shareholder might finally look for a new man at the helm of The Emirates. Either way, Wenger has to deliver the goods this season. Failure in doing so could result in his departure from Arsenal.
But there are yet more important contract extensions to be sorted out at the club. Enter Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez. Arsenal tied down Hector Bellerin's services recently as Barcelona were hovering around, but keeping these two in north London is vital for the club's future.
Sanchez's contract runs up to May, Özil's one season further. Sanchez, 27 and Özil, 28 can definitely perform at a high level for a couple of years. If Arsenal fail to capture any major honour, they may decide to go elsewhere to fulfil ambitions, and given their ability, there will be no dearth of suitors.
The German and the Chilean, both are world class and form a deadly tandem, perfectly illustrated in Özil's goal against Chelsea in September in a 3-0 victory. It would be a shame to see either of them leave. Arsenal need Özil to reach the dizzying heights of last season and Sanchez to be the lethal threat inside the opposition box which he is.
It appears that this Arsenal squad is as good as any in the last decade or so. Wenger added Shkodran Mustafi from Valencia to add steel to the backline and a suitable partner for Laurent Koscielny in the heart of the defence.
Granit Xhaka was signed from Borussia Monchengladbach to complement the impressive Francis Coquelin. The Gunners need Santi Cazorla, given that the Spaniard is adept at unlocking stubborn defences. Further, there is the usual crop of youngsters, namely Bellerin, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alex Iwobi. Theo Walcott has been excellent, as has been Olivier Giroud in his cameos off the bench (just ask Jose).
This team surely has the depth, balance and capability to be champions. If they come up short, the supporters and the management might look to start the inevitable post-Wenger era. After all, for how long can it be delayed?
If Arsenal disappoint, Wenger could be graciously asked to leave. On the other hand, he could leave himself, taking a well-deserved rest or the England job, which is perfect for his coaching methods. Wenger's departure coupled with a lucrative offer from any European giant might lure Sanchez or Özil away from London.
But consider that Wenger wants to bow out on a high and stays for another year. In spite of this, Sanchez or Özil could move on. The chances are that if one of them departs, the other could follow suit. Top players don't like to settle for second best, so Arsenal might have to win it all to keep hold of their stars and ensure that they don't do a Robin van Persie on them.
This could be the year it all comes together at Arsenal or one where it slowly disintegrates. One or even more of Wenger, Özil and Sanchez could depart this summer. The fans have endured twelve long years at The Emirates. Last season when rivals like Chelsea and Manchester United slumped, surely it had to be Arsenal's year. But Leicester City, incredibly beat them to the title (and they almost finished below Tottenham!)
It has been the case of 'Been there not done that' for Arsene Wenger and in one of the most exciting title races of all time, it is, make or break for Arsenal.
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