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Wenger eyes a rare saga-free summer

Just five miles separate their stadiums, but it will feel like a million this evening for the club that fails to qualify for the Champions League.

Arsenal or Tottenham Hotspur? It could be a confirmation that the old order remains should Arsenal triumph, or the start of a seismic shift for Spurs if they finish above their north London rivals for the first time in 18 years.

And to think it is only about being the fourth best team in the Premier League. That appears a relatively modest achievement but the ramifications will be huge, especially if Arsenal miss out for the first time in 16 years. Not only will it diminish their status, it would represent a huge financial blow – Champions League participation can earn clubs up to £50m – and it will raise questions over the future of manager Arsene Wenger.

Speaking on Friday, Wenger sensed the moment. There are seismic shifts elsewhere in the league – with Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea changing managers – and he claimed Arsenal will have an advantage in next season's title race should they finish in the top four.

Wenger admitted it was a relief to finally look forward to a summer at his own club that will not be dominated with speculation over the future of the star players, but that could change if Arsenal do not win today away to Newcastle and Spurs triumph at home to Sunderland. Failure will also affect the players that Wenger can attract if he is serious about finally making that title challenge once again.

"There is an opportunity for us," he said. "But, anyway, when you finish the season strong, like we do, you prepare already for next season because you go with more certainty. Last year we had a new team and we have built up some belief and, of course, we want to use that belief to win the game on Sunday. But you prepare as well for the longer term. You prepare for next season.

"The game is also for next season; to know when you have to turn up, you turn up. That makes your future stronger as well: the strength and belief that you can start strong again, that you are on a run, and you don't interrupt that because of the summer break. You just know that there are some qualities in this squad that will come out next year."

Arsenal are, indeed, on an extremely strong run and top the Premier League form table, with 29 points from their last 12 matches; Spurs have gained 24. Since losing to Spurs in early March, which left them seven points behind their north London neighbours, Arsenal have won seven league games and drawn two.

The Champions League victory away to Bayern Munich, albeit in going out of the competition, was the turning point for Wenger. During that same sequence of games, Spurs have not collapsed – their record is won four, drawn three, lost two – but their prolonged run in the Europa League also took its toll as Arsenal ate up their lead.

"Let's first finish well on Sunday and then we'll give ourselves a good potential chance to win the championship next year by doing well in the transfer market this summer," Wenger stated.

Hopefully it will be, for Arsenal, about arrivals and not departures, with Fiorentina forward Stefan Jovetic among Wenger's main targets. The manager has already confirmed he is close to signing French under 21 striker Yaya Sanogo, out of contract at Auxerre.

After summers of losing Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and, perhaps most damaging of all, Robin van Persie, it will be a relief for the club to not be confronted with another damaging transfer saga.

"It is a very important thing because, last year and the year before ... the summers were very difficult," Wenger explained. "Because of the Fabregas case, and last year the Van Persie case. And the Nasri case the year before. We started pre-season, on camps, with every time a player being half-in or half-out, and that's not the best way mentally to prepare the season."

The loss of "talisman" Van Persie was particularly negative – with Wenger admitting it affected squad confidence – they drew their opening two league matches and won just three games between mid-October and early December.

Jack Wilshere is expected to be on the bench today before undergoing ankle surgery which will rule him out for two to three weeks. The England international is expected to take a full part in the club's pre-season. "It will be a very big season for him because, first of all, it will be a very important season for Arsenal," Wenger added. And one he hopes will include another Champions League campaign.


Irish Independent