The talk of the Premier League at the moment seems to be whether Manchester City can turn money into success and launch a serious bid for Champions League football next season.
The transfer of Gareth Barry has merely accelerated these questions to before any big-name signings (with the exception of Barry himself) have been made.
The ex-Aston Villa captain claimed he wanted to leave Villa Park to play Champions League football. Either the money enticed him or the future of City did.
For the purpose of this article, let's assume that the future of Man City is as bright as Barry hopes it will be. It is hard to imagine that it won't be. That amount of money will always lure some big players to Eastlands, and as they start steadily improving, more will follow.
If, then, they are going to make a respectable charge for Champions League football, whose place in the "Big Four" will they take?
Well, it all depends on how soon they challenge for that top four place.
Should they do it next season, like some optimistic City fans think, or even the season after, which is beginning to look like a very real possibility, then you have to say that Arsenal are the most vulnerable.
While Liverpool seem to be improving every year, and Manchester United and Chelsea are maintaining their good performances, Arsenal are going through something of a transitional period.
Every club has to do it, but it looks like, through no fault of their own, Arsenal's transitional period has come at the wrong time, unless they can do something drastic in the summer transfer window.
Sir Alex Ferguson took United through one around 2003, while Liverpool and Chelsea both went through theirs in 2005, when they appointed Rafael Benitez and Jose Mourinho respectively.
Liverpool's took a few years but looks to be complete now.
Chelsea may well be due another one soon given the ageing nature of the squad, but at the moment it is Arsenal bridging the gap between the "Invincibles" and their next era of success.
That era may never come, however. Chelsea are likely to survive their transitional period without too much damage because of the sheer amount of money available to them.
Don't expect Roman Abramovich to throw money at the club like when he first arrived at Stamford Bridge, but Carlo Ancelotti, or whoever the manager will be at that point, will hardly have Arsene Wenger-esque budgets to deal with.
The timing of this transitional period is key and unfortunate for Arsenal. Had Man City got their large investment five years ago, Arsenal, you would say, would be the safest, whilst Liverpool would be most vulnerable.
It is very likely that City will challenge the top four in the foreseeable future, and at the moment Arsenal are the weakest side in the top four. We can put two and two together, then, and assume that it will be Arsenal's place City will be taking.
So what effect will this have on the club?
Arsenal rely heavily on Champions League football. Despite not handing out the sort of money Chelsea, United, and now, inevitably, City do, they are still the third most indebted club in the league.
However, their debts have not been acquired through greedy chairmen, but through the building of the Emirates Stadium.
Out of the top four clubs, then, Arsenal would be the best equipped to drop out of the Champions League spots, but it will still subtract a substantial sum of revenue, allowing even less money available for transfers.
While for a long time I saw the future of Arsenal being incredibly bright, now it has been dimmed somewhat.
Depending on if, when, and how quickly Manchester City launch a bid for a Champions League place, the focus of Arsenal would have to switch drastically from the future to the present.
In order for this to happen, many youngsters would either have to be shipped out or accept having extremely limited chances in the first team, while the board may have to open its chequebook.
Who knows—they may even have to get rid of Arsene Wenger.
The fact is, if Arsenal lose their top four spot, they will find it extremely hard, perhaps impossible, to dislodge the ever-powerful Manchester United, the rapidly-improving Liverpool, or the moneybags of Chelsea and City.
They would then be in serious danger of turning from a top club, capable of getting to the Champions League semifinal, to a club fighting it out for a Europa League spot.
Manchester City's potential—some may say inevitable—rise will surely cause the demise of one of the top four clubs, and at the moment, that looks like being Arsenal.
Quiz Question No. 7
How many top division league titles have Arsenal won in their history?
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