The celebrations may not have been as vocal as they were a few years ago, but Arsenal do have a small reason to cheer after securing a 20th consecutive finish inside the Premier League’s top four, continuing Arsene Wenger’s unblemished record of qualifying for the Champions League.
Since Wenger arrived at the club as the permanent replacement for Bruce Rioch on 13 September 1996, the Gunners have finished inside the top four every year – the only club to do so during that time period after Manchester United’s seventh-place finish in 2013/14.
United’s 3-2 defeat by West Ham on Tuesday night means that Arsenal head into the final weekend of this season’s Premier League with a five-point lead over fifth-placed United, and they need just a point to ensure they finish third ahead of Manchester City in order to avoid the Champions League play-offs and enter the group stage automatically.
Arsenal still harbour hopes of overtaking fierce rivals Tottenham and finishing the season in second place, although the Gunners need to beat Aston Villa and hope Spurs lose to Newcastle in order to prevent their north London rivals from finishing above them in the table for the first time since 1994/95.
During Wenger’s 20 consecutive top-four finishes, he has won the title three times, the most recent of which being the ‘Invincibles’ year of 2003/04, finished second and third five times each and has scraped into the Champions League with a fourth-place finish six times.
While Arsenal fans have, in the past, celebrated a top-four finish due to the financial constraints caused by the building of the Emirates Stadium, the landscape at the club has changed considerably. Fans are desperate for the club to win the title again, and some have turned on Wenger this season after witnessing Leicester City lift the Premier League trophy, with Arsenal seeing their title challenge falter during a dreadful run of results in January and February.
Wenger has one more year to run on his current contract with talks over an extension shelved after Arsenal’s difficult season, and the current expectation is that the 2016/17 season will be his last in charge of the club.
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