LIVERPOOL:Arsene Wenger was breezy in his dismissal of being knocked off the English Premier League summit, but even he cannot ignore the stark fact that Arsenal are currently enduring their first slump of the season.
For most clubs, a record of two victories in five league matches would hardly constitute a crisis - some might even take encouragement from such statistics - but it is Arsenal's misfortune that their chief rivals for the league title, Manchester United, are in the sort of merciless mood which ruthlessly capitalises on even the most minor slip.
A draw at Portsmouth on Wednesday - coupled with a thumping win for United at Sunderland - was enough to dislodge the Gunners from the top of the table but, while no titles are ever decided before the turn of the year, Wenger should be concerned at his side's lack of spark in recent weeks ahead of the daunting trip to Everton on Saturday.
The heady first three months of the season - when Arsenal swept aside all-comers with such glorious effervescence - are now just a distant memory.
The north Londoners have been laboured for almost two months now, with United taking over as the Premier League's great entertainers.
Wenger's problem is hardly new. Arsenal are irresistible when given the space and time to fashion their trademark passing patterns, but when confronted with teams intent on squeezing space and flooding midfield, they run out of ideas surprisingly quickly.
A lack of a viable Plan B - always a concern for Wenger's sides - remains as pointed as ever, especially when compared to United's multi-purpose line-up.
"This period is tough and people get tired but we have to keep playing our natural game, quick and sharp," Gael Clichy, the French defender, said. "We needed to win at Portsmouth given that United had won earlier in the day but now we need to do something at Everton.
"We missed chances at Portsmouth but hopefully we will score two or three at Everton now. It will be difficult because they have a good team with good players. We have to be careful and play with the spirit from the start."
Having seen their lead at the top of the league snatched away, it is imperative Arsenal do not lose further ground this weekend.
The omens, however, are not good: the Gunners have lost four of their last seven league matches at Goodison Park and David Moyes' team are building a strong case to be christened the best side outside the established top four.
A run of one defeat in 13 games - and that an unfortunate one, at Old Trafford - suggests that Liverpool are not the only club on Merseyside who should be targeting Champions League football this season.
The Toffees are just three points behind their local rivals although to close the gap even further, they will have to hurdle the mental block which habitually thwarts them against the Big Four.
"These are the games that the boys look forward to," Tim Cahill, the Australian midfielder said. "We were buzzing at Manchester United, playing in front of that big crowd and we will be buzzing again when we play one of the elite teams in the world on Saturday.
"We have got to be going on to the pitch and pitting our wits against the best players in the world and see where we are at. At the moment, I really believe we have got a great chance of achieving something great against Arsenal.
"It's all about how we apply ourselves. We probably won't see a lot of the ball but if we get a chance, we have got to try and take it. They will be coming here knowing they are going to face a massive game."