Another premature exit from a major competition, another high profile injury for Arsene Wenger to manage. What looked to be a season full of promise for Arsenal threatens to derail as we enter the business end of the Premier League.
If reports are to be believed, fears over Mesut Ozil's hamstring injury were confirmed today; the German international will be out for up to six weeks and will miss crucial Premier League games against Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester City, Swansea and Everton.
It's wholly conceivable that Arsenal could lose any one of the games that follow. In fact, in the corresponding results last season, the Gunners picked up just one point from those five games.
A similar run of form this year will almost definitely see Arsenal slip out of the top four as a win for Tottenham on Sunday will put them within three points – they will have played one game more – while a resurgent Manchester United will no doubt respond if they smell blood.
Of course Arsenal have shown more mental strength this season and many fans would hope for a better return than one point from the next five games. The only problem is that Arsenal are missing a host of key stars. Ozil joins other midfielders Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Kim Kallstrom in the treatment room while long term absentee Abou Diaby continues to look closer and closer to a premature retirement.
That leaves Arsenal short of creativity in midfield and threatens to leave the immobile striker Olivier Giroud cut adrift from the rest of the team. The Frenchman has been impressive at times for the Gunners this season but he relies on service that comes from the very same players who sit on the sidelines.
It gives Tottenham and Manchester United hope that the top four is not completely out of reach. Arsenal face a test of character. Failing that, they can and will be caught by the chasing pack.
Apart from a tricky trip to Liverpool and Sunday's visit of Arsenal, Spurs have seven very winnable games between now and the end of the season.
Manchester United face a harder run in hosting the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City before the season is out. But a 3-0 win away to West Brom hints at a revival from the current champions.
Not only are Arsenal in a fragile mental state but the physical condition of the squad is clearly deteriorating. The sheer amount of injuries has stripped Wenger's side to the bone, leaving them with a makeshift squad made up of promising youngsters, not proven stars.
Their demise in the next five games coupled with some landmark performances from either Manchester United or Chelsea will leave them exposed to the thing that has threatened to happen so many times in the last nine years: falling out of the top four.
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