Arsenal fear their top stars will be forced to consider their futures if Unai Emery remains in charge next season.
Sportsmail understands head of football Raul Sanllehi and technical director Edu held crisis talks with beleaguered boss Emery in the tunnel area of the Emirates Stadium following Saturday’s disappointing 2-2 draw against Southampton amid major doubts from inside club about the Spaniard’s position.
And the growing concerns that have engulfed Emery’s reign, which has led club officials to start identifying replacements, is partly borne out of fears over their key players’ long-term futures.
Arsenal fear their top stars will be forced to consider their futures if Unai Emery stays
Members of the squad have serious concerns over Emery’s methods. Many believe he is too conservative in his approach to games and fear his philosophy will cost them a chance of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.
The Gunners hierarchy believe those reservations will lead players to consider leaving the Emirates.
Key strike pairing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette are both in talks over new deals – but neither, thus far, have shown an eagerness to sign.
Both are understandably keen to play Champions League football but the way Arsenal are performing under Emery at the moment, there appears little hope of achieving that goal.
And there are real concerns that a further slide down the table will only serve to force other players to question their futures at the Emirates.
Emery is under huge pressure with his side already eight points adrift of the top four
It is understood Gunners would be forced to pay at least £4million in compensation to sack Emery before the end of the season – though his staff would also be entitled to pay-offs which would increase that package.
Intriguingly, Emery signed a two year contract with an option for a further 12 months in 2017 – meaning Arsenal are able to let their boss walk away from the club for free at the end of the season.
The growing gap between the north Londoners and the top four and implications of missing out on the Champions League again are also contributing to Arsenal’s faith in Emery fading fast.
The Spaniard is now facing a major fight to make it to next year as Arsenal boss unless he can inspire a dramatic turnaround in results.
Gunners’ chiefs are deeply worried about how far behind schedule another year out of Europe’s top competition will subsequently leave their project.
The Gunners are now five Premier League games without a win after drawing to Southampton
Arsenal have been without Champions League football for three successive seasons and are currently eight points off the top four down in eighth. One source described missing out again as a ‘disaster’ for their plans.
And though they haven’t given up all hope of Emery’s appointment working out the reality of their current predicament is becoming harder to ignore.
Winning the Europa League would seal a Champions League return but they do not want to leave anything to chance and the fortune required to win a cup competition.
Subsequently greater importance is being placed on their league position.
Arsenal have completely overhauled their management structure, bringing in the likes of Sanllehi and Edu.
Raul Sanllehi (L) and Edu held crisis talks with Emery following Saturday’s disappointing draw
They intend to help restore Arsenal to former glories, make them Champions League contenders and closer challengers to the Premier League’s current major forces Manchester City and Liverpool.
With fellow top six rivals Manchester United, Tottenham and Chelsea in differing stages of flux Arsenal were hoping to take advantage by eventually overtaking them to become best of the rest over the next few seasons.
But their continued struggles under Emery have left them in danger of letting a major opportunity pass them by.
Seeing some of the lesser-established clubs above them in the league has also been noted and made their current situation a harder one to stomach for the Gunners’ hierarchy.
As well as Emery there is an acceptance at Arsenal that the quality of the current squad and their inability to deliver on a consistent basis is also a major issue.
A number of members of the squad have serious concerns over Emery’s methods
Though that has only increased the need to get back in the Champions League, ramping up the pressure on their beleaguered boss.
Without it they fear they will have no chance of retaining or attracting the right players to sufficiently strengthen the squad and keep their plans on track, setting them back even further.
Former Arsenal midfielder and current Manchester City coach Mikel Arteta could be one of the candidates to replace Emery having been considered for the role before his fellow Spaniard’s appointment.
City boss Pep Guardiola said: ‘I’d like him to stay with us as much as possible. We are more than satisfied to have him here but what happens at the end of the season I don’t know.’