London, United Kingdom | AFP | Arsene Wenger will hope an unexpected slip from Liverpool or Manchester City helps silence a growing army of critics as Arsenal try to salvage their traumatic Premier League campaign by snatching a Champions League berth in Sunday’s season finale.
Rocked by Arsenal’s failure to live up to his expectations, and with a succession of former players questioning his methods, Wenger has been under fire like never before in his 21-year reign — and the lowest moment of all is likely to come at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
As if finishing below arch rivals Tottenham Hotspur for the first time in 22 years wasn’t bad enough, Wenger’s bid to lead Arsenal into the Champions League for a 20th successive season is in grave danger heading into their last league game against Everton.
To make matters worse, his former captain Tony Adams said Wenger “couldn’t coach his way out of a paper bag” in an extract from his autobiography “Sober”, serialised in the Sun newspaper.
Wenger, however, brushed off the criticism from former defender Adams, whose coaching tenure at Granada has ended in relegation from La Liga in Spain.
With the title race settled in Chelsea’s favour, Tottenham guaranteed to finish second and the three relegation places filled by Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Hull, attention will focus Sunday on the battle for the lucrative remaining two places in Europe’s elite club competition.
Despite winning six of their last seven games, Arsenal are in fifth place, one point behind fourth placed Liverpool and three adrift of third placed City.
If Liverpool beat relegated Middlesbrough at Anfield and City avoid defeat at struggling Watford, then, even if Arsenal win, Wenger’s side will be consigned to the indignity of Thursday nights in the unglamourous Europa League next term.
Having refused to confirm if he will accept Arsenal’s offer of a new contract, the 67-year-old Wenger said this week said his future will be settled when he meets the club’s powerbrokers after the Gunners’ FA Cup final date with Chelsea on May 27.
Those are still likely to be led by US-based owner Stan Kroenke despite a reported fresh takeover bid by minority shareholder Alisher Usmanov.
Meanwhile, a fourth successive City victory will see them hold on to third place and go straight into next season’s Champions League, while a draw would also be enough to ensure a top four finish.
– ‘Icing on the cake’ –
However, City could still miss out altogether if they lose, Liverpool defeat Middlesbrough and Arsenal improve their goal difference by at least five in the process of beating Everton.
Calling for one last push after an underwhelming first season in charge, City boss Pep Guardiola said: “We still have 95, 96 minutes to fight to do one thing that’s so important for the club and the future.
Liverpool will compete in the Champions League for the first time since 2014-15, and only the second time in eight years, as long as they match Arsenal’s result.
“The Champions League, for different reasons, is a wonderful competition. It would be the icing on the cake,” said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.
Already certain to finish sixth, Manchester United will send out a team largely comprised of youth team players as boss Jose Mourinho keeps his senior stars fresh for next week’s Europa League final against Ajax.
If United win the Europa League they will claim a place in the Champions League, giving Mourinho the last laugh while his old rival Wenger faces a troubled future.
Fixtures (all 1400 GMT)
Arsenal v Everton, Burnley v West Ham, Chelsea v Sunderland, Hull v Tottenham, Leicester v Bournemouth, Liverpool v Middlesbrough, Manchester United v Crystal Palace, Southampton v Stoke, Swansea v West Brom, Watford v Manchester City