All of a sudden Arsenal's home game with Stoke on Saturday is taking on enormous significance. A match that a couple of weeks ago would have seemed like a routine victory for a free-scoring side has become a must-win game for a team rapidly in danger of losing its way after consecutive defeats in the Premier League.
In the wake of losing 3-0 to Chelsea on Sunday, Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky admitted the club's season is in danger of falling apart unless they can beat Stoke at the Emirates. The Czech Republic international said: "Definitely we have to show our mental strength now. Letting our season fall apart would be the biggest mistake we can make. We have to show a reaction in the next game. That's all we can do. The next match is vital for us to get back on track. After a defeat like this, you need to have a good reaction; if not it could be even more difficult."
One of the most pressing tasks for manager Arsène Wenger is to convince his side they still have plenty to play for, despite two poor results in their last two Premier League games. They are 11 points behind leaders Chelsea, although they do have a game in hand, which is a home game with Bolton which has yet to be arranged. Even an eight-point gap is huge hurdle at this stage of the season.
Wenger admitted the Chelsea defeat may prompt others to lose faith in his Arsenal team, but he stated his determination that such a feeling will not affect the players. "We are fighters," Wenger said. "And we have to show that in our next game. The problem we will face now is that people will not believe in us. We have to make sure that lack of belief doesn't diminish our belief."
The absence of top scorer Robin van Persie for five months with torn ankle ligaments has to be addressed by Wenger as a matter of urgency. Before his injury Van Persie had been playing some sublime football, and Arsenal were purring. However with Nicolas Bendtner still recovering from his groin injury, there is no natural replacement. Putting the lightweight Eduardo da Silva up front in Van Persie's role did not work against Chelsea's robust defenders.
The Gunners remain the Premier League's top scorers, equal with Chelsea on 36 goals. But they have failed to hit the back of the net in their last two games, the 1-0 defeat at Sunderland and the home hammering by Chelsea. It will be no easier against a Stoke defence that has let in just 15 goals in 14 games, three fewer than Arsenal have conceded in 13 matches.
The solution for Wenger will have to be either to change his formation to allow for two strikers up front, to spread the burden of leading the line. Or he will have little option but to enter the transfer market next month. Perhaps if the former does not work, he will be forced to resort to the latter.
Defence is also a significant concern. Wenger was missing two left-backs, Gaël Clichy and Kieran Gibbs, through injury, but it was at right-back that they looked most vulnerable. On Sunday twice in the space of four first-half minutes Bacary Sagna allowed former Gunner Ashley Cole the space to cross and both times it lead to goals for Chelsea. Arsenal's lack of physical presence against Chelsea was also noticeable to Sagna, who said: "We can't fool ourselves. The gap was too large between the sides. Chelsea were stronger, they were better in the challenges, possession of the ball, passes. There is a lot of disappointment."
Catch us if you can: Drogba taunts rivals
Didier Drogba said Chelsea's rivals will have their work cut out to overhaul his club's five-point lead in the Premier League. Drogba, who scored twice in Chelsea's 3-0 win at Arsenal, said: "When you are top of the league, it is good, the others have to chase us. They have to produce and do more than us to win games. It is true that Manchester [United] are still there. We were in their position last year, behind and chasing. It is very difficult and now they have to come and catch us. I hope we have the team to stay ahead for the rest of the season."Reuse content