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Arsenal risk being left out in the cold

Monday, 18 February 2013 - 11:45am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Beating Bayern Munich tomorrow is crucial to their status in Europe and for attracting new players writes Alan Hansen.

If Arsenal fail to qualify for the Champions League this season, it would not matter if Arsene Wenger was handed a pounds 200?million transfer war-chest this summer because the best players will simply not be interested in moving to the Emirates Stadium.

The stark reality facing Wenger and the Arsenal board is that top players are only interested in two things - Champions League football and money - and there is a genuine danger that the club will not be able to offer either at the end of this campaign.

On top of that, there is also the prospect that star players such as Jack Wilshere, who only signed a new contract in December, will look around and wonder whether the club is capable of competing for the winners' medals that are being dished out elsewhere.

Arsenal only need to look at Liverpool to realise how quickly things can go wrong once the kudos and financial rewards of playing in the Champions League are gone.

Liverpool, Champions League winners just eight years ago, are now struggling to finish as high as eighth in the Premier League.

They have not played in the Champions League since 2009 and are as far away from getting back as they have ever been, but if it can happen to Liverpool, it can certainly happen to Arsenal.

So if Arsenal fail to finish in the top four and fall short of winning this season's Champions League, then why would any top player want to sign for them in the summer? Wenger is supposedly set to be backed with some serious money to rebuild his squad ahead of next season, but it will be too late if they end this campaign in fifth or sixth place.

The long wait for a trophy at the Emirates is one thing, but the real doom and gloom comes with being on the outside looking in, when the Champions League is played.

Arsenal might be prepared to spend big to sign players, but they will also have to rip up their wage structure at the same time and are they really going to do that? They have not been willing to compete with the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea in terms of wages in the past, but they will have to do so from now on because, even as a Champions League outfit, Arsenal are not the big draw they once were.

They do not have the global appeal of Manchester United or Liverpool, and Chelsea have now surpassed them as the most attractive destination in London.

And with Tottenham making big progress on and off the pitch, Arsenal will fall behind their bitter rivals if White Hart Lane is the only venue hosting Champions League fixtures in north London next season. If that happens, every player at Arsenal will be thinking, 'Can I go somewhere else to have a better chance of winning trophies?'

Forget about the long-term contracts that some have signed, because the power is with the players and they will suddenly find a reason to be unhappy, and as Arsenal have shown time and again, unhappy players get sold. That would obviously be a flawed mentality, but that is how a dressing room works.

In an ideal world, the Arsenal players would now be looking at the game against Bayern Munich tomorrow as the perfect chance to respond to their doubters with a big victory. They would also look to close ranks and make sure that they do absolutely everything possible to finish in the top four.

That is what Manchester United's players would do after a setback like the one Arsenal suffered against Blackburn in the FA Cup on Saturday, but are Arsenal capable of displaying that mentality? Probably not.

As a club, Arsenal have lost that habit of winning trophies and there are too many other clubs out there now who have experienced that feeling since Arsenal last lifted silverware.

Wenger still knows what it takes because he has been there before, but Arsenal are now having to clutch straws in terms of salvaging something from this season.

They might beat Bayern Munich and they might finish fourth, but if you were a betting man, you would not risk too much money on either.

The only thing separating Arsenal from the top players is money, but they have left it so late to spend that it will be impossible to invest it successfully if Wenger is left with millions to strengthen a team preparing for the Europa League.
 


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