Next few months crucial for Arsenal

By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - In the wake of Arsenal's 2-0 FA Cup defeat to Sunderland over the weekend there are two things that are near certainties.

The first is that the Gunners will extend their run of seasons without a trophy to a seventh year, while another fight to keep a star player appears to be on the horizon for this summer.

Arsenal's loss on Saturday has eliminated the club from both domestic cup competitions while a 4-0 defeat to AC Milan in the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 encounter has all but assured Arsene Wenger's side of being bounced.

The league table offers up no better news as the club sits 17 points adrift of leaders Manchester City, with a fight to finish in the top four expected to go down to the wire.

These are indeed troubling times at Arsenal, and unless the club is able to finish in the top four, keep hold of star striker Robin van Persie and spend the kind of money to put viable options around him, things only figure to get worse.

Last summer saw key players depart the Emirates Stadium for bigger spending, more successful clubs, and it's not hard to envision Van Persie doing the same this time around.
Defender Gael Clichy joined Nasri at City, leaving a hole in
defense that Wenger has been unable to patch.


Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri were both major components in the Arsenal setup but left for Barcelona and Manchester City respectively, with a lack of success being cited as one of the main reasons along with financial compensation.

Defender Gael Clichy did the same and joined Nasri at City, leaving a hole in defense that Wenger has been unable to patch.

The Arsenal boss is notoriously frugal when it comes to transfer dealings and new contracts for players, but a shift in that philosophy is necessary if the club is to return to its elite status.

Such a change could be on the way according to a report in the Sunday Mirror which states that the hierarchy at the club is prepared to loosen the purse strings a bit in order to encourage Wenger to bring in the kind of world-class players needed to compete.

Keeping hold of Van Persie will be the first order of business, but don't expect a handful of money to be enough to keep the Dutchman in North London.

At 28 Van Persie is enjoying the best season of his career as he has carried the scoring load for Arsenal throughout the campaign.

The striker sits atop the Premier League scoring chart with 22 goals, while the next highest scorer on the roster is Gervinho and Mikel Arteta with four goals apiece.

Losing Van Persie would create a massive void up top and would be a major setback for a club that is looking toward this summer as a turning point.

Clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid have already been linked with Van Persie, who has done his best to downplay any interest in moving, but it would be hard to see him turn down a move to one of the Spanish giants should Arsenal fail to finish in the top four this season.

Not winning trophies is one thing but not even qualifying for the Champions League is something different altogether.

The Gunners are currently tied with Chelsea in fourth place and just one point above Newcastle, which promises to make the next few months vitally important in order to secure a top-four finish.

Failing that, Van Persie's departure would be almost a forgone conclusion, not to mention the financial hit the club would take by not qualifying for the Champions League.

Finishing outside the top four would also greatly diminish the appeal of playing for Arsenal, further hindering Wenger's ability to lure superstar players to London.

So while there will be no silverware to play for over the next few months for Arsenal, there is still plenty at stake.

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Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com.

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