Defining period for Arsenal
Tueday night's UEFA Champions League clash with Dynamo Kiev could represent the defining moment of a difficult season for Arsenal. With the after-shocks from William Gallas's rant against his team-mates still being felt throughout the north London club, manager Arsene Wenger knows his team cannot afford another defeat.
The manner of Arsenal's dismal 3-0 loss at Manchester City on Saturday - coming less than 24 hours after Wenger dropped Gallas and stripped the French defender of the club captaincy - left the impression that their season is in danger of imploding. A run of one win from five matches would have been bad enough without Gallas revealing the extent of the rifts dividing Arsenal's dressing room.
Now Arsenal desperately need to ease the sense of turmoil engulfing the Emirates Stadium. While a win over the Ukrainians is unlikely to completely see off the vultures who are ready to pick over the corpse of Arsenal's season, it would at least guarantee progress to the second round and give the increasingly anxious Emirates Stadium faithful reason for optimism.
Wenger has kept his counsel over Gallas in public, but he insists the current crisis can be averted if the rest of his team retain their belief. "With a strong team in a strong club, you have sometimes to go through a period like this," Wenger said. "It is how well you deal with that situation that determines your future. I believe we have to try to win our next game and not set targets and see where we go. Let's try to win and see where we go from here."
Wenger can hardly have imagined the season would turn out like this but he refuses to single out individuals for blame. "I have had worse weeks! I always look at myself, even when we win," he said. "We are not in a blaming culture at our club and we must stand up to our own responsibilities."
Dynamo arrive in London knowing their hopes of qualifying from Group G will be over if they lose and Porto beat Fenerbahce. Yuri Semin's side will believe they can exploit Arsenal's problems but midfielder Cesc Fabregas is convinced the Gunners will be a tough nut to crack if Wenger switches back to the five-man midfield that helped beat Manchester United earlier this season.
Wenger played Fabregas, Abou Diaby, Denilson, Samir Nasri and Theo Walcott - now out with a shoulder injury - across the middle in that match, and the Spaniard wants to go back to that formation. "We can maybe defend a little better with five in midfield," he said. "We can put a little more pressure on our opposition, and if we defend well as a team we know it gives us a big step forward into the game."