LONDON (Reuters) - Six weeks after talking up the chance of a “quadruple” Arsene Wenger takes his Arsenal team to Blackpool on Sunday knowing that another failure will virtually ensure the club’s trophy drought goes into a seventh year.
Not only were they beaten in the final of the League Cup and dumped out of the Champions League and the FA Cup, but Arsenal’s league form has slumped too and they now trail Manchester United by seven points, albeit with a game in hand.
United, buoyed by Wednesday’s 1-0 Champions League win at Chelsea, have 66 points and will confidently expect to take that tally to 69 at home Fulham on Saturday.
Arsenal have 59, Manchester City, who visit Liverpool on Monday, are third on 56 with Chelsea on 55 ahead of their Saturday home game against Wigan Athletic.
Tottenham Hotspur have slipped back in the race for a Champions League slot and lie fifth on 53 points.
If Arsenal had taken full points from three winnable games against Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion and Blackburn Rovers they would be a point behind United with a game in hand and arguably title favourites.
Instead they drew them all and now, even if they beat United in their May. 1 showdown at the Emirates, Alex Ferguson’s side would still take the title if they win their other games.
Wenger, whose team thrashed Blackpool 6-0 at the start of the season, seemed at his wit’s end after the latest Emirates stalemate against Blackburn, the team who have conceded more goals away from home than any other.
”It’s difficult to explain. We had no pace in our game, a flat performance with a lack of energy level, a lack of sharpness,“ he said. ”It was quite a big concern to see what we have seen.
“You could see that mentally the focus, the mental energy level was not good enough,” Wenger told Arsenal TV Online.
”You have to force the pace a bit more and show more determination to score a goal, and we couldn‘t.
“We have to all together think about our performance and come back with something better than that.”
The game is equally, if not more, important for Blackpool who, after their bright and breezy start to life back in the top flight, are sliding ominously back towards the Championship (second division).
In 2011, they have lost 10 and drawn two of their 14 league games and are now one point and one place above the relegation zone.
Leaders United have had problems with Fulham in London in recent years but have a great home record against them.
With the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Chelsea looming large, Alex Ferguson will have a delicate balancing act to ensure he has enough firepower to get the win while leaving something in the tank for Tuesday.
It is the same story for Chelsea, who need to keep up the pressure in the league while knowing their only realistic chance of silverware is in Europe.
Their last two games against bottom club Wigan have brought wins of 6-0 and 8-0 so even Fernando Torres might fancy his chances as he goes into his 10th game for his new club still seeking his first goal.