LONDON • Beleaguered Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has called on his players to show they can meet the club's standards after a second humbling 3-0 defeat by Manchester City in five days.
City moved 16 points clear at the top of the Premier League, fresh from claiming their first silverware of the Pep Guardiola era in the League Cup final last Sunday, and the visitors scored three times in the opening 33 minutes as Arsenal disintegrated once more in front of a sparse crowd at the Emirates.
Bernardo Silva, David Silva and Leroy Sane were on target on Thursday to inflict a third straight defeat on Arsenal, leaving them 10 points adrift of the league's top four in sixth place.
And a night to forget for the Gunners was complete when £56 million (S$101.9 million) club-record signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang saw his second-half penalty saved by Ederson.
"You go up by stairs and come down by the lift, that is what happens with confidence," said Wenger. "We have to show we have the level to be at Arsenal."
However, the Frenchman again refused to accept it is inevitable that his 22-year stay at the club is coming to a sad end.
"I am confident that nothing is permanent in life," added the 68-year-old, after watching this team go 10 league games without a clean sheet, their longest run in the competition since February 2002.
This was the first time Arsenal have conceded three goals in the first half of a home league game since March 1989 against Nottingham Forest. The three-goal margin also represents their joint-heaviest home Premier League defeat, alongside losses to Coventry (1993), Middlesbrough (2001) and Chelsea (twice in 2009).
Arsenal have lost more matches in all competitions this year than any other Premier League team.
Manchester City, with 10 games to go, have scored more Premier League goals this season than the whole of last season (80).
"It is down to how you respond and the focus and effort you show to turn things around."
Even as he remains defiant, some observers believe he may not be the man at the Arsenal helm next term.
"It felt like an end tonight," former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher noted.
Fellow Sky Sports pundit Thierry Henry, who days ago expressed interest in the Arsenal managerial job, could only express his sadness for Wenger's predicament.
"It pains me to see this situation, for the man," the Arsenal legend, winner of two league titles under Wenger, said.
Leonardo Jardim, who led Monaco to their first French title in 17 years and the Champions League semi-finals last season, is among those reportedly in contention to replace Wenger.
Former Reds manager Brendan Rodgers, in need of a move after two years at Celtic, is seen as a potentially intriguing appointment.
Carlo Ancelotti, out of work since leaving Bayern Munich in September, and Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone remain in the mix.
Guardiola had some sympathy for Wenger amid renewed speculation over his future as the Gunners slide out of contention for Champions League football next season for the second year in a row.
"He knows my admiration for him," the Spaniard told a post-match news conference.
"I know all the managers can be in that situation. I'm sure he's going to take the right decision for him and for the club."
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Wenger has managed 818 league games, while Guardiola just celebrated his 100th game as City boss. But it is the latter who can sense a different kind of finishing line.
"We are close. It's in our hands, we can't deny it," Guardiola said of winning the league title, which his side can do with five wins in their last 10 games.
"People always think, 'A lot of points in front, we can relax', and we did the opposite. It is never easy if you are not focused against teams like Arsenal. We were (focused) and so far we make an amazing Premier League season."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE TIMES, LONDON