• Top level is about consistency in every game, says manager
• Thomas Vermaelen hopes Bayern's tempo better suits Arsenal
Now Arsène Wenger is dealing in extremes. This must turn into his best season at Arsenal or it will be his worst – and possibly his last. The booing from the home crowd after this defeat by Blackburn Rovers appeared more prolonged and pointed than ever before, and the calls for the Frenchman to leave grow louder. The stakes could hardly be higher ahead of Tuesday night's Champions League clash with Bayern Munich, and expectations around Arsenal could hardly be lower.
For a man who prides himself on the ability to remain balanced, these are disturbing times. There is no disguising the exasperation Wenger feels at his players for the club's predicament. As well as Blackburn defended, this was a sloppy loss by his team and, coming on the back of the humiliating one by Bradford City in the Capital One Cup, it leaves them out of both domestic cups.
With the Premier League title way beyond them, they are reliant on improbable European glory to avoid making this an eighth season in a row without a trophy.
In previous seasons Wenger has at least been able to offer qualification for the following Champions League campaign as sustenance for success-starved supporters, but with Arsenal currently four points off a top-four finish, even that meal may have to be skipped. "It is vital for us to fight for silverware," said Wenger. "Unfortunately the FA Cup will not happen for us now and we can only look at ourselves and not complain about anything else."
The Frenchman was clearly furious at his players' seemingly complacent approach to the game against Blackburn, which they dominated before being struck down by a 72nd minute Colin Kazim-Richards goal on the counterattack. "Maybe they still thought: 'OK, we're playing at home against Blackburn, it will be difficult but we will win the game anyway', but it doesn't work like that," seethed Wenger, whose dismay was all the deeper after hard-earned, back-to-back wins over Stoke City and Sunderland had convinced him that the team were developing the required ruthlessness.
"We were quite on a high because we played well at Sunderland last week and the team looked happy and full of belief, but we couldn't maintain the focus. The top level is about consistency in every single game and that's what we could not show. Coming after the Sunderland game we came out with a flat performance and that shows that, mentally, we are not capable at the moment of preparing in exactly the same way for every game.
"I think we have a great team but this shows we still have to show more maturity on the mental front. We have to understand what it means to win big games. [Blackburn] was a big game for me."
Great teams always find a way to win, no matter what. Arsenal keep finding ways to lose. Gervinho dragged a shot wide when clean through in the first half, Tomas Rosicky drove a fine effort against the crossbar in the second and the Blackburn goalkeeper, Jake Kean, made several excellent saves, notably late on from a Theo Walcott header. Mostly, however, Arsenal failed to summon the imagination and urgency to penetrate Rovers, for whom the centre-backs, Scott Dann and Grant Hanley, excelled.
Jack Wilshere did make Arsenal more dynamic and cutting when he was introduced along with Walcott and Santi Cazorla for the last 20 minutes, but still they could not break through.
The club captain, Thomas Vermaelen, was as aghast as his manager at the latest sub-standard performance and accused his team-mates of "not respecting the game". The Belgian added: "I think the tempo could have been higher sometimes. I think we had too many touches on the ball, didn't respect the game sometimes and it was difficult to get through their defence." That bodes ill for the visit of Bayern, who have conceded a solitary goal in 11 away matches in the Bundesliga, which they top by 15 points.
"It is vital that we respond strongly [to the Blackburn defeat] on Tuesday," said Wenger. Vermaelen, who is likely to be deployed at left-back because of an injury to Kieran Gibbs and the fact that the January recruit, Nacho Monreal, is cup-tied, believes that Bayern's willingness to attack more than Blackburn could benefit Arsenal. "I think Bayern will come out of their box," said Vermaelen. "It will be a different game. The tempo should be higher. Sometimes you get more space when they come out more."
Man of the match Scott Dann (Blackburn Rovers)