Former Manchester City and Burnley midfielder Joey Barton believes that Arsenal will not qualify for the Champions League this season.
The English international was speaking on the Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast show on talkSPORT about Arsenal’s prospects for the season. While he admits that Wenger has put together great teams in the past, he feels Arsenal will struggle to qualify for the Champions League due to the Europa League and a frail defence.
“I don’t think they’re going to get into the Champions League spots this year, and they’ve got a Europa League campaign to contend with. Any side that’s in that, you usually reckon it’s worth a negative of six points with the travelling on a Thursday night and playing Thursday and Sunday,” Barton said.
“[Arsene] Wenger has created great teams down the years, but for him it’s a tough one. You saw the Liverpool result and everyone is saying he should have gone [at the end of last season] and his critics are back out of the woodwork, so he’s in a tough position and it’s not going to get any easier.
“Getting [Alexis] Sanchez back on the pitch is going to be vital for them, getting him happy and back playing because anything they’ve done well over the last couple of years has been through that man, so the transfer window closing and him still being an Arsenal player is a massive plus.
“[Danny] Welbeck being back is also a big plus, but their problems are the same problems, and that central defensive area will be their Achilles heel this season. They’re going to score goals but they’re not going to be able to keep the clean sheets to mount a title challenge.”
The Thursday-Sunday schedule of the Europa League has long been regarded as a pain for managers in England. History suggests that performances for the Sunday games drop after playing in the Europa League. Curiously enough, this isn’t as big a problem for the rest of Europe.
Arsenal’s defence has also been suspect this season so far. The games against Leicester City, Stoke City and Liverpool revealed some alarming fragilities. Nonetheless, it’s still early days in the season and the Gunners can improve, especially as things settle down with the transfer window closed.
While the London club may struggle to gain qualification through the league, they could get in via the Europa League, as Manchester United did last season, resulting in five teams being in the competition this campaign. It’s a cliche to say it, but while doubts about Arsenal exist, it’s still too early to write them off.