By Dominic Toner

Joey Barton believes that Arsenal face a tough challenge to finish in the top four of the Premier League.

Arsenal have never finished outside the top four under Arsene Wenger since he took charge at the beginning of the 1996/97 season, but face huge competition for a Champions League spot this campaign.

The Gunners got off to a poor start in their opening league fixture as they were beaten 4-3 by Liverpool at the Emirates.

Current Rangers midfielder Barton told Alan Brazil’s sports breakfast show on Wednesday morning that the current Arsenal side will struggle to repeat their league history, claiming their squad looks light and that rivals have strengthened well.

“Arsenal just haven’t progressed again with what they’ve done in the summer, they signed Granit Xhaka (£30million) and they still look really light through the spine of the team,” Barton told Talksport. “Petr Cech’s not got any younger. Where have they improved?

“I just think they’re really vulnerable and I think they’ve got a real scrap on their hands to get in the Champions League places, which is usually what signals success for their season.

“I think the natives have been restless over the past couple of years certainly seeing all their title rivals go out and shell a few quid and Arsene’s there saving his money up again.”

Arsenal legend Ian Wright has criticised Wenger’s transfer policy this summer and has pleaded that the club spend some money in the final weeks of the window.

The Gunners are now poised to sign Valencia defender Shkodran Mustafi for a fee of £25.9million according to Sky Sports’ Spanish reporter Guile Balague.

The north Londoners have developed a reputation for being cautious in the transfer market in recent years that has led fans to question the club’s ambition.

Arsenal have invested more heavily in on-field talent in recent seasons having spent £32million and £42.5million on Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil respectively.

The fight for the top four is expected to be the closest in years with Arsenal attempting to finish above heavyweights Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham.

In other Arsenal team news, Jack Wilshire has praised the club’s new signing as a natural.