A few months ago, Arsenal fans were dreaming of the Premier League title.
League leaders Leicester City had been beaten in dramatic circumstances at the Emirates Stadium and, with players returning to form and fitness, Arsene Wenger’s side were suddenly favourites to lift the crown.
Alas, how things have changed. The Gunners’ latest setback means Champions League football for next season is far from guaranteed. And, unlike Manchester United, they may be in deep trouble without it.
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The year begun with Arsenal aiming for the biggest prizes but finishing in the top four could be more important than winning silverware for a third season in a row.
Sunday’s goalless draw with Sunderland was another blow, particularly with the club also having drawn with Crystal Palace on home soil last weekend.
That, coupled with back-to-back wins for Louis van Gaal’s reborn Manchester United, means Wenger is under real pressure to steady the ship amid a mounting crisis at the club.
It is still in their hands – even if United win their game in hand to close the gap to two points – but their form of late hints at a team quickly losing confidence in both the manager and themselves.
Arsenal have a more favourable run-in, particularly with clashes against the relegated Aston Villa and lowly Norwich City, but their path to Europe’s top-tier competition will be far from straightforward.
United lured big name players such as Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao to the club despite finishing seventh under David Moyes, but Arsenal will be unable to do the same with the Gunners failing to possess the same financial muscle as the Old Trafford club.
Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil are currently their highest-paid players, with the latter on £140,000 a week, but nothing compares to Wayne Rooney at United who takes home £300,000 despite his waning performances.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been linked to both clubs but, with the Swede reportedly demanding a weekly wage of £600,000 that would appear to rule Arsenal out of the running.
United currently trail only Real Madrid in the battle to become the richest club in world football, and their extortionate kit deal with Adidas led to Ed Woodward confirming the club could afford to sign the biggest and best players in world football.
Finishing in the top four is must-do for Arsenal. Failure to do so could ensure the world’s best players go elsewhere and further dent their hopes of ending their 12-year wait for the league title.
Who will finish in the top four? Have YOUR say in the comment box below!