Arsene Wenger admits he is more fearful than ever that Arsenal will miss out on the Champions League.
Even though the Gunners boss claims the club no longer need the additional finances provided by finishing in the Premier League’s top four, playing in the Champions League is still desirable from a sporting aspect – especially when it comes to attracting big-name signings.
Arsenal go into their final league game of the season on Sunday in fifth, knowing even a victory at home to Everton may not be enough to usurp Manchester City or Liverpool, both of whom have Champions League qualification in their own hands.
For the first time since 2006, Arsenal head into the final weekend of the campaign as outsiders to finish in the top four.
That year it was fierce local rivals Tottenham who occupied fourth spot heading into the last 90 minutes, only needing to match Arsenal’s result to stay there.
But, while Arsenal saw off Wigan, the Spurs squad was hit by a sickness bug and were beaten at West Ham.
Wenger had delivered again – but even if he had not, another bite of the cherry would come later as they faced Barcelona in the Champions League final.
While they lost to the Catalan giants, having two opportunities to seal another season in Europe’s elite club competition is not something Arsenal can fall back on this time around.
“In 2006, you are playing Barcelona in the final and you still thought you had a chance to win the Champions League and to be in the Champions League again,” said Wenger.
“So the fear not to be in it was less big. This time, we are less likely to be in it but we still can manage it only by focusing on what we think is important, which is to win the game.
“We want to play in the best competition and that’s why we want to be in the CL. And we are very close as well.
“We are 10 points away. We have a possibility to do it and if it’s a small one we have to be professional and do it to the end.”
While it remains to be seen if Arsenal will be competing in either the Champion League or Europa League next season, it is also a time of uncertainty off the pitch.
Wenger’s future is still up in the air as the Frenchman is still yet to publicly announce if he will sign a new contract to remain in the job beyond next weekend’s FA Cup final against Chelsea.
Protests have been ongoing from a section of supporters who want to see Wenger replaced in the summer, with marches and boycotts taking place in recent weeks.
Add to that a new boardroom power struggle, with minority shareholder Alisher Usmanov making a £1billion bid to purchase Stan Kroenke’s 67 per cent of the club, and several aspects of Arsenal’s future are unclear.
But qualifying for the Champions League is the immediate priority.
That is despite the fact Wenger insists the club are no longer in need of the financial benefits that come with being in the competition.
“It has not the financial weight that it had before, for sure, because television money has gone up (in the Premier League),” he said.
“Financially you don’t suffer anymore. I was sitting here during the period when we had to pay the stadium back and the income of the Champions League was absolutely vital.
“On the financial point we are not in trouble. It’s more the fact that we want to play in the best competition. Financially, no, it’s not a disaster.”
Finishing fifth may not tighten the purse strings as much as in the past but bringing in new signings, and holding on to the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, without Champions League football will no doubt bring fresh challenges to the Arsenal manager – whether that be Wenger or his successor.