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Friday 9 December 2016

Ronnie Whelan: Title is in the bag now for Jose and Chelsea

Stalemate at the Emirates puts an end to Wenger's lingering title aspirations

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho

JOSE Mourinho didn't quite park the bus at the Emirates but he made absolutely certain he drove away with a point. As far as I'm concerned that locks down the Premier League title for Chelsea.

For the last few weeks, Chelsea have been withdrawing slowly but surely behind their points total and with that has come more caution than they showed earlier in the season.

But there is no better team in England at suffocating opposition talent than Chelsea and we saw that very clearly against Arsenal yesterday.

Nobody could argue that Arsenal played better football and looked much more dangerous when they attacked but with the finishing line in sight, there was no need to take risks.

I take my hat off to Arsene Wenger. He has once again pulled a dying season out of the fire and although they fell short yesterday, I didn't sense any feelings of antipathy towards him in the Emirates crowd.

He is an amazing man. Every season for the last five or so he has been written off but somehow, he manages to steady the ship and improve.

I think Arsenal were unlucky to lose Aaron Ramsey with three hamstring injuries. He looked ready to win the title on his own early on but all that underlines is the fact that Wenger didn't have enough players to cope which has been a theme during Arsenal's barren run.

I have to say, I really did think Wenger's time had come before Christmas and that we were watching a lap of honour but I genuinely do not know what will happen at the Emirates this summer.

The big question for Gunners' fans is whether they have now settled for the environment Wenger has created. If he can deliver the FA Cup, it will be seen as a successful season.

But is that what Arsenal supporters want? Do they want to be tagged as also-rans, financially secure, perhaps, but always looking up at a rival.

It's not a position I think they would be happy with but I'm convinced that there is a massive element of fear within Arsenal about the devil they don't know.

If you run through the top clubs in England, I think you find that even at Liverpool, troubled as the club has been for a long time, there is still the hope among fans that their day will come again.

Manchester City fans will be totally confident that at some point in the next three or four years, they will win another title and Manchester United supporters are already mentally cheering Louis van Gaal for bringing the great days back.

Chelsea hold all the aces and have the most secure supporters in the country. They have a manager who is quite clearly among the best in the world, a group of players which will be strengthened during the summer and a billionaire owner.

But then you think about Arsenal. What do their fans have to look forward to? The Champions League draw? Another FA Cup final?

At the end of each season, fear of the unknown has been the filter used to assess Wenger and the club - owners, directors and fans - have reached the conclusion that it's best to leave well enough alone.

Personally, I think Arsenal will struggle to find anyone better and although I can understand the accusation that a great club's ambitions have been stifled to suit a new financial reality, I actually think that Wenger is better placed than he has been for a number of seasons to carry on.

He has cash and plenty of it. Arsenal have ticked every box in Financial Fair play and he has a squad of players which with a few judicious additions could really give the Premier League title race a right go.

Arsenal need a couple of strikers, a couple of hard-headed midfielders who can tackle and maybe a defender or two but after years digging in and making do with what he has, Wenger has finally assembled many of the he elements he needs for a title-winning side.

The worry I would have is whether he has it in him to take the next step, ask the club for £150m and add some really big players to the squad, proven winners.

Put it this way, if he was to spend the same amount as van Gaal and Manchester United invest this summer, I have no doubt that Arsenal would be serious contenders next season.

But can he shake off years of what can only be described as penny pinching and do what is needed? I'm not so sure.

I really hope he does because I'm certain the Premier League would be a poorer place without him.

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