LONDON (THE GUARDIAN) - The start of October is far too early for any club to ponder the end, in effect, of its season but Arsene Wenger admits the stakes are high for his team right now.
The Frenchman rightly refuses to agree that Arsenal are practically out of the Champions League after Tuesday's home defeat by Olympiakos but he concedes that another loss at the Emirates on Sunday would severely dent the club's English Premier League ambitions.
Arsenal host Manchester United striving to ensure that they do not suffer major blows in each of their priority competitions in the space of a few days.
"It's the first maybe massive game for the top of the table, it's at home and you want to win it," says Wenger. "Without the home form you don't win the championship, that's for sure."
He pointed to his opponents' record to back that up. "If you analyse well the number of championships that Manchester United have won, it's always at Old Trafford."
His own team provided an exception back in 2002, when they were crowned champions after collecting more points away than at home - in the only season during Sir Alex Ferguson's reign that United won more away than at home - but the overall message is clear: Arsenal can ill-afford another slip-up on Sunday.
Victory, of course, would put Arsenal level on points with the team who started the weekend at the top of the table, before Manchester City provisionally took the lead after hammering Newcastle 6-1.
But the defeat by Olympiakos casts a negative light over the build-up to United's visit. Wenger, mind you, is arguing with rare anger that blaming Tuesday's defeat on the costly mistake by David Ospina is "cheap".
Although he is likely to restore Petr Cech to goalkeeping duties for the visit of United, he rightly asserts that defeat by the Greeks was a collective rather than individual failure. If there is one person to blame above others, then it is the manager.
While Louis van Gaal has vowed to retire when his United contract expires in 2017 or at the end of any extension, Wenger, whose deal at Arsenal ends at the same time, says he has no plans to withdraw from the game but that, when he does so, it will be relatively sudden.
"I haven't decided (about retiring) yet. I think it can be more instinctive and impulsive than that," says Wenger, who turns 66 this month. "I've heard (other managers say) so many times, 'Next year I will retire,' and then they continue or go somewhere else. I think one thing is for sure: when I retire, I will really retire."
Wenger does not expect van Gaal to backtrack on his decision the way Ferguson did in 2002. "Certainly (van Gaal's) is the kind of personality who will respect that. But I think I will be a bit more instinctive."
Victory on Sunday will increase Wenger's chances of ending this season, at least, on a high.