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exclusive Arsenal are a great club who can no longer compete with rivals being fuelled by 'fantasy football' owners

For the Gunners to be sitting ninth in the table and so far off the pace should be shocking

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Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has done a solid job with limited resources

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has done a solid job with limited resources

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has done a solid job with limited resources

IN so many ways, Arsenal have become a symbol of the current era of the Premier League. At the turn of this century, Arsene Wenger has transformed Arsenal into a winning machine that emerged as the primary contenders to Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, with their double-winning season in 2002 backed up by a remarkable unbeaten Premier League campaign two years later.

Wenger revolutionised the game in England by opening doors to foreign managers and players, but everything changed once again when Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea and hired Jose Mourinho as his manager.

Using the spare change of a billionaire owner, Chelsea spent £400m in two years as they bought their way to success. Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ team of 2004 simply couldn’t compete. They were knocked off their perch as champions and, in truth, the club has never recovered from that blow.

While Wenger fought hard to keep Arsenal in the mix at the top of the table during his time in charge, we have seen since his departure that it is tough for any manager to complete in the modern Premier League without huge financial backing.

Jurgen Klopp produced miracles to bring success to Liverpool with a modest net spend in the transfer market, but sustaining that proved to be beyond him this season, as the depth of his squad has been exposed by injuries that have ripped his defence to shreds.

Yet Liverpool’s short-term concerns are nothing compared to Arsenal’s nearly two decades of decline and the Gunners don’t look like bouncing back any time soon.

Mikel Arteta’s side will head into Saturday’s game against Liverpool a massive 29 points behind champions-elect Manchester City and a million miles away from challenging for the title.

For Arsenal to be sitting ninth in the table and so far off the pace should be shocking, but you don’t see too much criticism of Arteta because this has become the norm for one of the biggest names in English football.

You have to look at the ownership and point some accusing fingers because while we are told that their owner Stan Kroenke is a wealthy guy, he doesn’t seem to have any interest in putting his money into Arsenal.

That was clear during Wenger’s final years at the club, when they were forced to sell players to balance the books and often agreed to do deals with their domestic rivals.

Traditionally, top clubs don’t allow their best players to leave, unless Real Madrid or Barcelona come in for them, but Arsenal highlighted their diminishing presence in the Premier League when they sold players to domestic rivals.

Manchester City signed a lot of players from Arsenal, Robin van Persie was sold to Manchester United, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain ended up at Liverpool and they also seemed to struggle to tie players down to contracts, with Aaron Ramsey among those who left on a free transfer.

That is not the story of a ‘big’ club and maybe that’s why there doesn’t seem to be too much pressure on their current manager now, as expectations of what Arsenal should be achieving have slipped so far.

They have a chance to win something in the Europa League this season and they won the FA Cup last year, but they are the minor prizes in the game now and I’m sure Arsenal fans are sad to see what their team have become.

A little like the debate we have had over Stephen Kenny and the Ireland team in recent days, you might ask whether any manager could do better than Arteta, given the financial position at the club?

As is the case with Kenny, I’d say the answer is probably no, so Arteta will battle on in his job and try to find a way to generate success using the kind of budget Klopp has been working with at Anfield.

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Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta shakes hands with Willian of Arsenal as the Brazilian star is substituted

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta shakes hands with Willian of Arsenal as the Brazilian star is substituted

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta shakes hands with Willian of Arsenal as the Brazilian star is substituted

Liverpool’s trophy wins over the last couple of years confirm that anything is possible with great management and the rub of the green with injuries, but it feels like Arsenal are trying to repair too many years of being stuck in reverse drive now.

That said, they will be a threat to Liverpool in what should be an exciting match on Saturday evening, with the return of the Premier League welcome after the misery we have all lived through watching Ireland in the last week.

On their day, Arsenal have attacking players who can cause any team problems, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette classy forwards who can punish slack defending.

Liverpool gifted Arsenal a win at the Emirates Stadium with some sloppy defending last season and they will need to guard against that on Saturday.

Yet Klopp and his players have now reached the point of no return as they have to win every game between now and the end of the season to give themselves a chance of finishing in the top four.

Chelsea are in the box seat to claim that top-four spot, but I believe Liverpool will qualify for the Champions League if they win their final nine Premier League matches. That won’t be easy and I don’t think it will happen given everything that has gone on in recent months, but nothing has made sense this season and maybe Liverpool can continue the unpredictable script.

As for Arsenal, they don’t look like they will finish in the top four of the Premier League any time soon.

A great club now accepting they cannot compete with rivals being fuelled by owners who have shattered the Financial Fair Play rules and appear to be allowed to play fantasy football without any punishment.

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