The relatively straightforward 4-1 victory over Reading on Saturday kept Arsenal in touch with the teams currently occupying the Champions League qualification places in the Premier League. Tottenham Hotspur won at Swansea but Chelsea, consistently inconsistent under Rafael Benitez, lost at Southampton and are in danger of dropping out of the top four.
And while one would have thought qualifying for Europe’s elite competition was motivation enough for this group of players, Arsene Wenger has raised the stakes. The Frenchman says that the performances in the end of season run-in will define how he approaches this summer.
With new recruits expected at the Emirates Stadium, there will be several players looking over their shoulders. Arsenal have not lived up to expectations once again this season – whether they qualify for the Champions League or not – and Wenger is looking for the appropriate attitude from his team as the campaign nears its conclusion.
One of those players is the gangly figure of Gervinho. Rather than opinions on the Ivorian winger being polarised, he seems to elicit just one response from Gunners supporters – that of frustration.
However he found the net again in the win over Nigel Adkins’ side at the weekend and seems keen on proving his ability in the English game. If he can maintain that level of motivation, it will only be a bonus for Wenger and Arsenal.
There are players who are almost guaranteed to be moved on in the summer: Sebastien Squillaci, Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh to name but three. But for the majority of other players, they still have time to change Wenger’s mind over their futures.
Aaron Ramsey, a favourite of Wenger’s, has come under fire from sections of the Gunners’ support this season, as has Thomas Vermaelen from a defensive point of view. While these players aren’t in danger of being moved on, their performances between now and the end of the May will define whether alternatives are sought for their positions.
With Abou Diaby out until Christmas, the midfield is almost certain to be strengthened. Tomas Rosicky’s first start for a while yesterday, in which he completed a full 90 minutes, was an excellent boost for the team, but a physically imposing player would not go amiss.
Of course, the potential for new faces at the Emirates depends, to some extent, on which European competition they will enter next season. If it’s the Europa League, the same calibre of player will not be attracted to north London. Thursday nights just don’t have the same aura about them.
But if Champions League football is on the agenda, Wenger will find it much easier to upgrade his squad. The only way that can happen is if the current fringe men prove their worth.
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