Arsenal need a quick rethink, writes Andy Brassell, and maybe missing out on the Champions League wouldn't be the worst thing for them...
"The FA Cup should be a priority – the current handwringing over Arsenal’s lack of progress shouldn’t obscure the fact that the victorious 2014 and 2015 finals were genuinely joyous moments in the club’s recent history."
Saturday was not, it is fair to say, a great weekend for Arsenal. Between the aeroplanes, Mesut Özil's mystery absence and the defending at set-pieces, it felt like everything was falling apart at the seams. With four defeats in the last five Premier League matches for The Gunners, it's currently hard to pinpoint exactly where the slide might stop.
Even though they retain two games in hand over fourth-placed Liverpool, who they currently trail by six points, Arsène Wenger's team have now drifted to [4.0] to make the top four, behind Spurs, Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United. It's an indication of where morale is perceived to be at in London N5 at the moment that a salvageable situation is edging towards being viewed as a lost cause.
There is plenty to be fearful about in the future - who the manager will be next season (whether it's to be a stick or twist) and the question of Alexis Sánchez's future, as well as that of the absent Özil. With nine games still left to go, though, what's up next can wait. Dealing with the present - in short, saving Arsenal's season - is what must be on their minds right now.
There can't have been many more vital months in Wenger's recent tenure than April promises to be. It contains six Premier League fixtures, starting with two at home against City and West Ham, as well as another encounter with Pep Guardiola's team in the FA Cup semi-final. Personnel-wise, there's not a huge difference between what Wenger is working with now and what was serving him so well back in autumn. The international break may have come at an opportune time to reassess, focus and work on confidence issues.
Although the top four is clearly still a target, as it should be, perhaps removing the pressure of thinking so hard about it could help turn things around. The FA Cup should be a priority - the current handwringing over Arsenal's lack of progress shouldn't obscure the fact that the victorious 2014 and 2015 finals were genuinely joyous moments in the club's recent history.
While we're on the subject of trophies, maybe missing the Champions League for a season wouldn't be the end of the world. The last time that Arsenal were involved in a lower-tier European trophy, they got all the way to the 2000 UEFA Cup final (even if they began the season in the Champions League), only being edged out on penalties by Fatih Terim's excellent Galatasaray. Getting back on the trail of silverware, rather than worrying too hard about the bank balance, would be a great way for Arsenal to start cheering their fans.
Hammers need to focus on next season now
Conversely to Arsenal, West Ham have very little of immediate urgency to occupy their brains, at least ostensibly. They're miles away from Europe but also a whole nine points clear of the bottom three, with a lot of ordinariness separating them from the red zone. Yet three straight defeats - the latest set up by a shambolic opening against Leicester - is more fuel to the fire of a flat first season in the London Stadium.
They have to take heed of Dimitri Payet's words on leaving too - the fans may be justifiably angry with him, but he had a point about the club's waning targets - if they are to maintain the ambition of their project, and not consign themselves to a campaign of real struggle next term.