It’s a math problem, really. 4 slots. 7 teams. Not gonna fit.
Champions League football is now almost expected at every club that wants to be considered as one of the best in Europe, and since the Premier League undoubtedly has the richest of clubs, courtesy of the new TV deal, there will be a fight for the top 4 places in the 2016-17 season unlike any we’ve ever seen.
And it has the potential of being hugely disappointing. For some clubs anyway.
The likes of Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs, and even Leicester along with West Ham, are competing now for the big honors. Some might even add Southampton to that list, but I wouldn’t rush it too much considering they lost their hugely popular and tactically sound manager Ronald Koeman to Everton, in addition to their two best players in Sadio Mané and Victor Wanyama, to Liverpool and Spurs respectively.
Everton are also arguably in the fighting, as their new billionaire major shareholder Farhad Moshiri has promised to back his new manager in the Transfer market. Though they are also in the somewhat premature stages, considering Lukaku and Stones depart from the club as expected, and there are yet to be any major arrivals.
All of this begs the question: who will actually finish in the top four spots?
The two Manchester clubs are undoubtedly the favorites this early on to lead the race, and justifiably, too, considering the amount they’ve spent so far. Spurs are also hot if you’re a betting person. Pochettino has done a remarkable job at acquiring depth in both the holding midfield and the centre-forward position. If they can put up the sort of performances that almost made them the champions ahead of Leicester, this team will be fascinating to watch.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are strugglers who endured a difficult season during 2015-16. Chelsea, who clearly had the biggest disaster of any previous Premier League champion, are looking to revive themselves of such a record-breaking embarrassment.
Under the leadership of a very capable and young manager in Antonio Conte, the club will definitely improve upon its form from the year just gone by. If Conte’s Italy team are anything to go by, they will be much more prepared (“boot-camp” some are calling it) for the season this time around, as opposed to the lack of it they paid the price for during the previous season with Mourinho in charge.
The Italian manager’s winning mentality, along with his work ethic (“work, work, work”) seems a perfect fit for the lackluster and somewhat half-wilted efforts proudly put on display by the boys in blue during last season. There can be no half-hearted efforts this time around, that’s for sure.
That leaves only the 4th place up for grabs, which, by tradition, is reserved for Arsenal (or Arsène) Football Club. However, this season throws the most consistent aspect of Wenger’s abilities into question. Will they finish above Spurs again? Are they good enough and on a consistent basis to finish above the newly reinvigorated Liverpool? What about Leicester City? Who possess an unmatched willpower?
None of the questions can be answered with certainty even by Wenger himself, should he operate in the Transfer market like he usually does; drive high hopes, land someone to raise hopes, and then leave only speculation and unrealistic links for the fans to enjoy for the remainder of such an important part of the footballing season.
This transfer season is no different, but the player that he’s managed to get ahold of might be. Granit Xhaka is a born-leader, and for once, Wenger has managed to pull-off a transfer that the club genuinely needed. The defensive midfielder had the best pass completion rate out of all plying their trade in that position in the Bundesliga. He’s young, too, only 23 years of age.
Everything about him says that he isn’t the typical “Wenger” player; he’s a class above most players that the Frenchman gets already.
Yet, satisfying though it may be, the high hopes created by this fantasy of a transfer have subsided since and are now replaced by sheer anxiety. Arsenal fans are wondering if that was the only piece of weaponry that the manager’s going to equip himself with for the upcoming season. Some of them are probably left in bewilderment by the lack of activity since the Gunners’ capture of the Swiss star. Surely, Wenger knows that this is the end, right?
Because from this point on, he won’t even finish in the top four if he rebuilds the squad with the same sort of effort and hesitation as he has in seasons past. He needs a world-class striker. It’s not a want, it’s a genuine and realistic, need.
Spurs have Kane, Chelsea have Costa, City have Agüero, United have Ibrahimovic, and, for gods’ sakes, even Liverpool (Yes! Liverpool!) can argue they’ve got one or two. The point is, the competition’s tougher, much tougher, according to many, but Wenger needs to understand that it will be the toughest he has faced yet in charge of Arsenal during this upcoming season. And I hope, for Arsenal fans’ sake, he doesn’t choose to face this test with the primordial Olivier Giroud.
Because if he does, he will surely breach the unparalleled 4th place consistency that has built his managerial reputation.