London: Arsene Wenger admits Arsenal’s dismal start to the season means the club’s longer term targets for this season have been put on hold.
The Gunners signed off for the international break with a 2-1 defeat at rivals Tottenham Hotpsur in the north London derby, a result that meant they have lost four of their opening seven Premier League games.
Now Wenger’s side return to action with a home fixture against Steve Bruce’s Sunderland on Sunday in a game that brings together two managers who are already under pressure with less than a fifth of the season gone.
The Arsenal manager accepts that with just seven points - the club’s worst start for 37 years - any talk of winning silverware or securing a top four finish must be put on hold until his side has developed some kind of momentum.
"It is seven games played, we have had some difficult away games. I am convinced we have good potential, we have rebuilt the team and of course we were a bit disturbed at the start of the season for different reasons," Wenger said.
"But we just want to focus on short term at the moment, we are not in a position to make long-term plans."
Arsenal would normally feel confident of claiming three points off a Sunderland side that has been plagued by inconsistency.
But the recent run of form has damaged Arsenal’s confidence.
"I don't know how many games we can afford to lose, that depends not only on us but the other teams," Wenger added.
"We need to be consistent, that is what we need. Nobody can tell you today how many games you can lose to be in the top four, but you need to be consistent with positive results. We know that, and that is what we want to achieve in the next games."
Wenger’s mood has at least been lifted by positive news about central defender Thomas Vermaelen who is making good progress in his recovery from an ankle injury.
"He's two weeks away. He is running out on the pitches," said the manager. "He looks alright but we have to respect the progression, you still have to give him two to three weeks to be competitive again."
Abou Diaby, Bacary Sagna and Jack Wilshere are also out but defenders Laurent Koscielny and Johan Djourou are ready to return to the squad for a game that will provide a test of Arsenal’s nerve.
Seb Larsson feels for his old club Arsenal after their difficult start to the campaign, but that will not stop the Swedish international from attempting to deepen the gloom at the Emirates Stadium as Sunderland look to match last season's unbeaten stint in London.
Larsson spent six years with the Gunners before joining Birmingham City in 2007, and he revealed: "Since my time there I've always followed them. I had a great time there and will always be thankful for what they did for me. I always want to see them do well.
"For this one game though, I'll be more than happy if we make life difficult for them. I'm just concerned about we're doing though, we need to start picking up more points than we have so far because we're not satisfied.
"Of course Arsenal have had a disappointing start, they can’t get away from that. A club like that always wants to be at the top and I hope they can turn it around - after they play us."
Scotland defender Phil Bardsley serves the last of a four-match suspension as Sunderland aim for a first league win at the Gunners since 1983.
They will attempt to re-write the history books without Nicklas Bendtner, the on-loan Arsenal forward who is barred from facing his parent club.