Former Arsenal midfielder Paul Merson does not think his former side have any hope of qualifying for the Champions League this season and "just can't see" Alexis Sanchez remaining in north London this summer.

Arsene Wenger's men are preparing for a new campaign without the prospect of Champions League football after failing to qualify for Europe's premier club competition for the first time in over two decades last season.

Merson, who plied his trade at Highbury for 12 years between 1985 and 1997, thinks Arsenal should prepare for a prolonged spell out of the tournament and says it would be a "massive feat" if they managed to return to the top four at the first time of asking.

The former Middlesbrough and Aston Villa midfielder also says he "can't see" Sanchez seeing out the final year of his contract at The Emirates Stadium and is certain the Gunners will be immediately weakened by the talismanic Chilean's prospective departure.

"I just can't see how [Alexis] Sanchez is going to stay; I don't see anything but sixth for Arsenal, I really don't," Merson told talkSPORT. "I sit there and try and work out, try and make a case for them, and I can't, I can't make a case.

"I mean, you know [Alexandre] Lacazette better than me, you watch a lot more French football than me, and he is a good player. But, you know, if Sanchez goes... the team's getting weakened straight away.

"I just worry for Arsenal, I really do. I think if they get in the top four next year, I think that's a massive feat."

Wenger reiterated last week that Sanchez will remain an Arsenal player this season and is seemingly prepared to let the sought-after 28-year-old leave for free next summer. The Frenchman has remained unmoved in his stance over Sanchez's future and said the versatile forward will have to "respect" his decision to keep him in the capital.

The former Barcelona attacker has been heavily linked with a £50m move to Manchester City this summer and is believed to have his heart set on reuniting with Pep Guardiola at the Etihad Stadium, but for now he remains integral to the Gunners and will likely feature in the club's Premier League opener against Leicester City on Friday evening after missing his side's Community Shield win over Chelsea.

Gabriel Paulista, Alexis Sanchez and Shkodran Mustafi
Merson believes Sanchez's departure is inevitable. Getty Images