Early Doors

Is Wenger facing Arsenal exodus?

Early Doors

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Arsenal went to the Reebok Stadium on Easter Sunday hoping to resurrect their title hopes, but instead it was Bolton Wanderers who came back from the dead.

After the Trotters' 5-0 mauling by Stoke in their FA Cup semi-final, they responded by showing the ability to kill off opposition which has so deserted the Gunners of late with a dramatic late 2-1 win.

Owen Coyle was delighted with the way his players show the cojones to keep going even after a saved penalty was followed swiftly by an Arsenal equaliser, and when Tamir Cohen celebrated his 90th-minute winner by revealing a t-shirt in tribute to his recently-deceased father, a degree of poignancy was added to a big moment in the club's season.

The significance of the result for Cohen and Bolton is, however, obscured by its relevance to this year's title race, i.e. all but knocking Arsenal out of it.

Nine points behind leaders Manchester United with four games to go, they are now instead looking over their shoulder at Manchester City as they try to avoid sliding back further and into fourth place. Any schadenfreude revelled in on Saturday as Champions League-chasing neighbours Tottenham stumbled will have been short-lived.

The defeat may have ended a 16-game unbeaten run in the league for the Gunners, but they were simply dropping at a crucial stage of the season to maintain a credible threat. Rescinding a two-goal lead to Spurs (for the second time this season) plus failure to beat Blackburn, West Brom or Sunderland since the start of March put paid to any hopes of Arsenal claiming a quarter-share of the quadruple they were on for such a short time ago.

The sight of Wojciech Szczesny sat stunned inside his goal at the final whistle was reminiscent of William Gallas's sit-in at Birmingham back in February 2008 when Eduardo da Silva's broken leg kicked off that season's capitulation. In fact, Birmingham have a lot to answer for, what with this season's Carling Cup final win heralding this season's breakdown.

Arsene Wenger has gamely accepted culpability for the defeat, diving on the grenade to avoid his players taking the flak: "I feel the players have had an outstanding attitude this season. They are not to blame. If somebody is to blame, it's me. I pick the team," he said, garnering precisely no objections from anyone. "We still lack maturity, experience and calm in important situations.''

It would be real task for anyone to total up the column inches dedicated to Wenger's refusal to sign more proven, experienced players since they last lifted a trophy in 2005, but now he could be faced with a fresh worry regarding his personnel: will he be able to keep hold of his best players this summer?

Talk of Cesc Fabregas's long-mooted move to Barcelona has died down but has never completely disappeared. His presence this season has had an air similar to Cristiano Ronaldo's final year at United about it. Should Barca beat rivals Real Madrid to glory on both domestic and European fronts over the next month, what better way for them to build on that success than the signing their much-coveted youth product?

While most Arsenal fans have had well over a year to get used to the idea of their club captain leaving - as they always have done ever since Tony Adams retired - the prospect of losing Samir Nasri has only recently emerged as a possibility in the minds of many. The Frenchman's form his mirrored that of his club this season. He looked the best player in the country at the back end of last year, but the loss of his scoring touch has been a factor in Arsenal's downturn. Now, with little over a year left on his contract, the 23-year-old may be tempted to look elsewhere in his search for a first winner's medal. The terminally prudent Wenger may be forced to cash in on the French playmaker while he can, in order to recoup some of the big fee paid out for him three years ago.

Gael Clichy is also a little more than a year from walking out of the club for nothing. While in footballing terms the left-back may be easily replaceable, he is the only surviving member of the 2003-04 Invincibles squad still at the club (Fabregas did not make a league appearance, while surely Jens Lehmann won't still be at Arsenal next season? Won't he?). Therefore, Clichy is one of the most experienced members of the current squad, a damning indictment if ever there was one.

Just how many other players on the Gunners' roster could be tempted to seek pastures new? Andrei Arshavin only joined the Gunners after declaring his "dreams" of joining several other clubs around Europe, while Robin van Persie would surely have attracted far more interest were it not for the persistent injuries which have reduced him to just 152 Premier League appearances in his seven years at the club.

If Wenger is not careful, then his inability to move things forward could lead to him taking a big step back.

- - -

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Don't ask me about that. It's called humour, all right? Don't distract away from my team's performance. Don't even write about it. You have the photographs, I'm sure, but it is just a bit of fun. I don't want to distract from my team's performance today." - Celtic manager Neil Lennon is not interested in discussing a complaint over a gesture he made at the end of the Bhoys' 0-0 draw against Rangers on Sunday, which was seen but not acted upon by Strathclyde Police. After the week he has had, it would be absurd to see Lennon be the one questioned by police.

FOREIGN VIEW: "There were a couple of possibilities and United was one but the only person who knows just how close, is Alex Ferguson. I never spoke to him personally but there were contacts with United." - Raul has admitted upcoming Champions League opponents Manchester United was a possible destination after he left Real Madrid last summer before he moved to Schalke.

COMING UP: Highlights of all the weekend's Premier League action are now online, plus our round-ups of the best five goals and saves.

Day three of five straight days of Premier League action sees Blackburn Rovers host Manchester City. Follow live coverage of that clash at 20:00. Paul Parker will be looking forward to that match in his latest blog too.

There is also coverage of a full round of fixtures in The Championship and live scoring of the games in League One and League Two to stay updated on.

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