Mired in a "vicious circle" of poor results and increasing unrest among fans, Arsene Wenger's position as Arsenal manager has rarely been under such scrutiny heading into Saturday's home match against Aston Villa in Premier League.
With the club on the verge of making it eight
seasons without silverware, even Arsenal's players have been forced to defend the credentials of their esteemed coach, whose record of qualifying for the Champions League every year since 1997 is under threat.
"I don't want to focus on the negativity,'' Arsenal winger Theo Walcott said. ``I just want to focus on the positive side of the team, because I know how good those guys are, and get to where we should be."
"We've got the best man in the job to get our heads back to where they should be.''
After losing at home to second-tier club Blackburn in the FA Cup and then Bayern Munich in the first leg of the last 16 of the Champions League, another defeat at Emirates Stadium to a Villa side battling against relegation would be hard to stomach.
Arsenal is four points behind fourth-place Tottenham in the fight for a finish in the Champions League positions, which Wenger views as the equivalent of winning a trophy.
Manchester United will be without Wayne Rooney and Phil Jones as they aim to stretch their lead at the top of the table to 15 points with victory at bottom club Queens Park Rangers on Saturday.
Rooney, who has scored 10 goals in his last 11 starts, has a sinus problem, while Jones has injured his ankle.
The trip to Loftus Road is the first of five consecutive games in which United will face sides currently residing in the table's bottom half.
With City facing an awkward game at home to third-place Chelsea on Sunday, a United victory at QPR could represent a decisive blow in the title race.