Arsenal fear their star players will consider leaving the club if Unai Emery is still in charge next season. Photo: Paul Childs/Reuters

Arsenal fear their star players will consider leaving the club if Unai Emery is still 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 after Saturday’s 2-2 draw against Southampton amid major doubts at the club about the Spaniard’s position as head coach.

Club officials have started identifying replacements, partly due to fears over key players’ long-term futures. 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 place in next season’s Champions League.

Key strike pair Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette are both in talks over new deals but neither have shown an eagerness to sign. Both are keen to play in the Champions League but under Emery there appears little hope of that.

It is understood the Gunners would have to pay at least £4million in compensation to sack Emery before the end of the season, and his staff would also be entitled to pay-offs. Emery signed a two-year deal last summer with an option for a further 12 months — meaning Arsenal could let their boss go for free in May.

The implications of missing out on the Champions League again are also contributing to Arsenal’s faith in Emery fading fast.

Arsenal have been without Champions League football for three successive seasons and are currently eight points off the top four in eighth.

One source described missing out again as a ‘disaster’ for their plans.

And though they have not given up hope of Emery’s appointment working out, their predicament is becoming harder to ignore.

Winning the Europa League would seal a Champions League return but they do not want to stake their fortunes on an unpredictable cup competition, so greater importance is being placed on their league position.

Arsenal have overhauled their management structure, bringing in Sanllehi and Edu. They intend to 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 Big Six rivals Manchester United, Tottenham and Chelsea in differing states of flux, Arsenal had hoped to become the best of the rest over the next few seasons. But their continued struggles under Emery leave them in danger of letting a major opportunity pass them by.

Seeing less-established clubs Leicester, Wolves, Sheffield United and Burnley above them in the league has also made the situation hard to stomach for club bosses.

There is also concern over the quality of the current squad and their inability to deliver on a consistent basis.

This has only increased the need to get back into the Champions League, ramping up the pressure on Emery. If they miss out, the club fear they will have no chance of retaining or attracting the right players to strengthen the squad and keep their plans on track.

Former Arsenal midfielder and current Manchester City coach Mikel Arteta could be a candidate to replace Emery, having been considered for the role before his fellow Spaniard’s appointment.

City boss Pep Guardiola said of his assistant: ‘I’d like him to stay with us as much as possible. But what happens at the end of the season, I don’t know.’

Daily Mail