• Club in need of a result in Champions League match
• Manager says players must regain belief in themselves
This season's crisis feels as though it has snuck up on Arsenal. Perhaps it is because they had started off more serenely than last time out, without the transfer window chaos, the stress of a Champions League play-off and the defeat of all defeats at Manchester United.
Yet, in the wake of Saturday's defeat at Old Trafford, which was not 8-2 but still packed a sickening punch, the bottom-line statistic revealed the bitter truth. With 15 points from 10 games, this has been more dismal than last season, when 16 points had been accrued which, in itself, was Arsenal's worst start to a league campaign for 58 years.
There was so much to be unhappy about on Saturday from an Arsenal perspective, beginning with the defensive vulnerability, which was epitomised by the hapless André Santos. The left-back's decision to seek the shirt of his former team-mate Robin van Persie at half-time would not have been an issue if he had put in anything approaching a credible performance.
It was startling to hear the resignation in the words of Arsène Wenger, who admitted that his team were not good enough, at present, to challenge at home or in Europe and that United had simply been "better". This used to be the fixture of the English season. Now Arsenal are not relevant in terms of the title.
For Wenger, though, one aspect of the defeat at Old Trafford and, indeed, matches so far this season, troubled him most deeply. Against United Arsenal did not muster a shot on target until the 92nd minute.
One can sometimes get the sense from Wenger that he is not overly bothered about defending; to him it is not an art form. But not to create? This is anathema. The club's fans have taken to chanting: "We want our Arsenal back." Before the vital Champions League tie at Schalke on Tuesday night so does Wenger.
"Our defensive record is not very, very bad," the Frenchman said. "Of course, in the three big games of the season, [in the defeats] against Chelsea, Schalke and Man United, we made defensive mistakes. We will get rid of that. It is a bit linked with belief. But at the moment we are not used to playing games and not creating chances.
"That is what we want to rectify. We are many times criticised for giving chances away but we are not used to being criticised for not creating, especially because we have a team that is based on creativity. That is why I think it is important that we come back to what our game is about. We have a team of great players. They forget that a bit at the moment."
It was revealing that, when asked what he would most prize against Schalke, a performance or a result, he plumped, without hesitation, for the former, even if he went on to stress the link between the two. "We want to think about playing well, that's what we want to focus on," Wenger said. The impression was of a manager seeking a return to basics which, in Arsenal's case, is related to freedom of expression.
Wenger has overhauled his attacking options. With Van Persie sold to United, Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla have come in to assume the responsibility and there was an admission from Wenger that the transition had been troublesome. Jack Wilshere, too, must acclimatise after 17 months out. His lack of timing, in his second match back, resulted in his red card at Old Trafford.
"We were short in some positions on Saturday that we have to correct," Wenger said. "I feel some players are still in an adaptation period coming to our club and some are coming back from injury, like Wilshere. He is getting stronger in every game. That will be rectified very quickly."
Schalke, second in the Bundesliga, represent formidable opponents. Wenger will have a different view of them in Gelsenkirchen, having completed his three-match Uefa touchline ban against them two weeks ago, in his team's 2-0 home defeat, and he challenged his players to ensure that Schalke do not look so impressive again.
Wenger is acutely aware that another defeat would imperil Arsenal's chances of emerging from Group B. "What was worrying in the first game was that we didn't create many chances," Wenger said. "You can never at this level think your opponent never has a chance. What is important for us is to create chances, which is what we don't do at the moment.
"Even if the situation is serious, it's not dramatic and it is down to us to conquer. We swim a bit against a stream but I'm confident that we'll bounce back very quickly and very strongly. We are a bit too far behind in the league at the moment and we have to rectify that in the Champions League. We can put it right against Schalke."