Happy New Year to one and all, whoever you support.
During 2016, readers have not been slow to tell me my fortune — so now it’s my turn.
I expect Chelsea to win the title, with Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City – in that order – completing the top four.
And if Arsenal finish outside the Champions League places for the first time in 21 years, I suspect Wenger’s wonderful reign will reach its natural end.
Don’t get me wrong, the man is a legend.
His Arsenal team including Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp was the best I ever played against. They were not only the Invincibles, they were the Untouchables.
But I tipped Arsenal to miss the top four before a ball was kicked in August, and I am not going to change my tune now.
I simply believe that Wenger’s time is drawing to a close, and the Gunners will soon be facing their biggest decision of modern times.
As United found out when Sir Matt Busby and then Sir Alex Ferguson retired, it is not easy to replace a legend who has been part of the furniture for more than two decades.
Nottingham Forest have never found a successor with half of Brian Clough’s magic touch and charisma since he departed the stage in 1993.
Watch — Arsene Wenger looks ahead to Arsenal’s first game of 2017:
- Arsene Wenger discusses Arsenal’s 20161:30
- Antonio Conte responds to Wenger’s “super favouri2:25
- Jose Mourinho refuses to be drawn on discussions 0:28
- Jose Mourinho on Morgan Schneiderlin’s Manchester0:42
- Jose Mourinho on his friendship with Middlesbroug1:24
- Watch in Full: Jose Mourinho speaks ahead of Manc6:43
- Manchester City stars take on football darts chal1:03
- Liverpool’s Kevin Stewart with an absolute banger0:29
- Mass brawl breaks out in Uruguayan football match1:44
- Arsene Wenger feels “fantastic” Mesut Ozil could 1:41
Unless he wins the Champions League – and it was rotten luck for Wenger that he won his group and drew Bayern Munich, who only finished second in theirs – I have a hunch that 2017 will be the year we say goodbye to Le Professeur.
I hope I’m wrong (it wouldn’t be the first time), but he is out of contract in the summer and if Arsenal drop out of the top four for the first time this century, club and manager will arrive at a fork in the road.
Elsewhere in 2017, N’Golo Kante will win the title for the second year running but with a different club, Man United will win the Europa League, Brighton and Newcastle will be promoted from the Championship, while Derby and Aston Villa will make the play-offs.
Going down will be Hull, Swansea and one of Middlesbrough and Sunderland.
I tipped Boro for the drop in pre-season and they have surprised me with their resilience, but they do not score enough goals and I suspect one of the north-east sides will pass neighbours Newcastle in the lift shaft.
Finally, much as I hate to say it, I can’t see Wales qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.
Chris Coleman has done an amazing job, and the memory of my country reaching the Euro 2016 semi-finals will make me smile into old age, but they have already left themselves with too much to do on the road to Russia.
MY FIVE WISHES FOR FOOTBALL IN 2017
1) To stop the madness of hiring and firing, I would like to see every manager given a minimum of 12 months or a full season in charge. I felt Bob Bradley was the wrong man for the job at Swansea , but to give him only 85 days and 11 games in charge – without a transfer window to bring in his own players – was totally unfair.
I would like to see the Premier League introduce a rule which says clubs who change the manager in mid-season MUST give the new man either 12 months or a full season. That would put a stop to the short-term thinking and revolving doors which reflect no credit on the game.
2) Let’s have instant video replays for penalties which are awarded.
If managers were allowed to challenge decisions given against their teams in the box, it would remove the single biggest source of controversy – and stop big games, and huge sums of prize money, being won or lost on human error.
- Is this the most shocking dive of all time?0:40
- Two Brazilian league players with pathetic play-a0:21
- Barcelona kids take EIGHT seconds to score vs Rea2:35
- Moment non-league player’s hattrick makes him a w0:34
- Watch Real Madrid’s impressive training drill0:27
- Jurgen Klopp shares his thoughts ahead of Manches1:30
- Jurgen Klopp explains why he doesn’t watch Manche1:51
- What is David Luiz doing to Willian?0:28
- John Terry scores outrageous volley in Chelsea tr0:28
- Bob Bradley speaks about off-field turmoil at Swa1:11
- Mauricio Pochettino has his say on Harry Kane pen0:40
3) Players who dive – where there is clearly no contact, and therefore they are cheating – should be banned for three games, the same punishment as they would incur for a serious foul or violent conduct. And repeat offenders should be banned for four games, five games and so on until they stop doing it.
4) With £5billion of TV money – plus more coming in from the sale of rights overseas – there is no excuse for clubs to fleece fans and charge the earth for match tickets.
In my opinion, £20 is plenty to go to a football match, whether you are watching Manchester United, Bournemouth or Hull. I would like to see all 20 clubs reach a common accord because, as the fans’ lobby group says, twenty’s plenty.
5) If I could rub the magic lamp and be granted a wish to see one player in the Premier League in 2017, it would be Lionel Messi at Manchester City .
It would be fantastic to see him reunited with Pep Guardiola and to see one of the two greatest club footballers of our time plying his trade in England.
And hopefully he would make a mockery of the chumps who call phone-in shows claiming he wouldn’t be able to cut it in the Premier League!