While Arsenal cruised to a 2-0 victory over West Brom on Thursday, the mass ranks of empty seats at the Emirates Stadium painted a more accurate depiction of the club’s current state. The victory took Arsenal into third place, above Manchester City, and gave them a four-point cushion over fifth-placed Manchester United to keep them on course for a 19th consecutive season in the Champions League. In this, of all seasons, though, that achievement is set to do little to alleviate the frustration felt by many Arsenal fans.
It was one thing to remain without a title when the Russian and Abu Dhabi billions fueled Chelsea and Manchester City, and Sir Alex Ferguson presided over the behemoth that is Manchester United. But it is quite another to watch their title drought enter a 13th year while local rivals Tottenham and unheralded Leicester City battle it out for the crown.
Arsene Wenger has continued to brush off talk of his time at Arsenal coming to an end anytime soon, but there is no question that he faces a real challenge to lift the gloom around the club and convince fans he is still capable of guiding the team to success over a 38-game season.
And, having failed to sign a single outfield player last summer, Wenger will be under pressure to strengthen the squad this summer. In his press conference ahead of the West Brom match, Wenger was asked about one of the players with which Arsenal have been linked. However, he denied he was pursuing Leicester star Riyad Mahrez.
“No and even if it was I wouldn’t speak about that at this stage of the season, it would be disrespectful to Leicester,” he said. “But it’s not the case.”
Mahrez has had an outstanding campaign, scoring 16 goals and adding 11 assists. However, with Champions League qualification guaranteed, he will not be easy to part from Leicester, with a massive offer surely required.
Mahrez is not the only Leicester player to have been linked with a move to the Emirates Stadium. England Under-20 left-back Ben Chilwell, suggested as a target in January, has again been the subject of interest from Arsenal, reports the Daily Mirror. The 19-year-old has yet to make a Premier League appearance and was on loan at Huddersfield Town earlier this season, yet is also believed to be attracting interest from Chelsea and Liverpool as he stalls over a new contract.
There does appear to have been more progress made toward securing another reported target. According to ESPN, and their sources close to both the player and the Gunners, Arsenal are confident they will get a deal done for Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Granit Xhaka this summer. The 23-year-old Swiss international is thought to have been on Wenger’s radar for some time, but it could cost around £30 million to prize him away from the Bundesliga club.
As well as luring new signings, Arsenal could face a battle to keep their two existing world-class talents. Alexis Sánchez, who scored both goals against West Brom, and Mesut Özil, nominated for the PFA Player of the Year award, are both set to enter the final two years of their contract this summer. And with Arsenal’s current struggles, there have been suggestions that they could look to move on. Wenger, though, has played down the risk of their departures.
“These two players have two years to go on their contracts at the end of the season,” he said. “So that is why we are not in a hurry. The players are very keen to stay and we are talking.”