Joey Barton cannot see Arsenal making the top four of the Premier League this season, attributing his reasoning to three factors — the strain of playing in the Europa League, the heavy criticism of Arsene Wenger and their defensive problems.

The Gunners failed to reach the Champions League for the first time in 21 years as Wenger's men were only able to manage a fifth place finish in the 2016/17 season.

With just two summer signings in the form of free-agent Sead Kolasinac and club-record arrival Alexandre Lacazette, Arsenal have not had an impressive start to the new season, having already suffered two losses and being four points adrift of the top spot after four games.

With their Europa League campaign commencing this week, Barton believes it is only going to get tougher as he believes it is unlikely that the north London club will finish in the top four.

"I don't think they're going to get into the Champions League spots this year, and they've got a Europa League campaign to contend with," Barton told talkSPORT.

"Any side that's in that, you usually reckon it's worth a negative of six points with the travelling on a Thursday night and playing Thursday and Sunday."

The former Manchester City midfielder also adds that the heavy criticism Wenger is currently facing, which could be argued is at its peak, will make things tough for the Frenchman.

"[Arsene] Wenger has created great teams down the years, but for him it's a tough one," Barton added.

"You saw the Liverpool result and everyone is saying he should have gone [at the end of last season] and his critics are back out of the woodwork, so he's in a tough position and it's not going to get any easier."

Barton acknowledges that retaining Alexis Sanchez was a huge boost for the club along with Danny Welbeck's return, however, believes Arsenal are still vulnerable defensively.

Wenger's men have already conceded eight goals in four league games, only mustering up their first clean sheet of the season against a lacklustre Bournemouth side.

"Getting [Alexis] Sanchez back on the pitch is going to be vital for them, getting him happy and back playing because anything they've done well over the last couple of years has been through that man, so the transfer window closing and him still being an Arsenal player is a massive plus," he explained.

"[Danny] Welbeck being back is also a big plus, but their problems are the same problems, and that central defensive area will be their Achilles heel this season.

"They're going to score goals but they're not going to be able to keep the clean sheets to mount a title challenge."

Arsene Wenger
Wenger's job security could be at stake if Arsenal fail to get Champions League football next season Getty