We are less than a week into Project Restart and Arsenal are already facing a crucial 48 hour period that could definine the end of their season.
The Gunners have endured a horrendous resumption of the Premier League, losing both of their opening two games and picking up three serious injuries to senior players.
Saturday’s demoralising injury-time 2-1 defeat at relegation-threatened Brighton, a game they had been leading with just 15 minutes remaining, saw them slip to 10th in the Premier League and they are now just three points ahead of 14th-placed Southampton, who they play on Thursday.
The manner of the defeat enraged head coach Mikel Arteta, who was in no mood to pull any punches after the game.
“We haven’t competed like you have to compete in the Premier League,” he said. “We gave the first goal away and we lost a few important duels afterwards, so I think it’s all our fault.
“It’s not about the character, it’s about how you compete in a Premier League match and it’s for 100 minutes in this case.
“It’s for every ball, it’s for every action and the moment you lose attention, the opponent is going to punish you. It’s not the first time it has happened and if you want to win football games consistently at this level, it’s a must and it’s a non-negotiable.”
For Arteta, the opening week of Project Restart has been an unmitigated disaster. Whatever could have gone wrong, has gone wrong - including one player testing positive for coronavirus just before the Manchester City game and two other having to go into self-isolation.
It was then discovered that the positive test was in fact a 'false positive' and all three players were cleared to return to training the evening before the match at the Etihad Stadium, but the issue did cause massive disruptions to Arteta's pre-match preperations.
Arteta must now pick up the pieces quickly or risk the final weeks of Arsenal's season spiralling out of control.
His side travel to Southampton on Thursday and then to Sheffield United on Sunday for an FA Cup quarter-final that now takes on even more significance given what has gone on in the Premier League over the last week.
But before either of those games, Arsenal’s head coach is facing up to a 48-hour period which will have a major impact on how he will be able to approach the final five weeks of the campaign.
By the end of Tuesday, Arsenal have to agree short-term contract extensions with three players if they want them to be able to feature for them beyond June 30, when their current registrations end.
Those players are David Luiz, who is out of contract this summer, Cedric Soares, who is on loan from Southampton, and Dani Ceballos, on loan from Real Madrid.
A short-term extension would also have needed to be agreed with Flamengo for Pablo Mari, but that is no longer an issue due to the injury he sustained against Manchester City which has ruled him out for the remainder of the campaign.
Arteta has already publicly stated his desire to turn Mari’s move into a permanent one, and Arsenal do have an option to do just that. As it stands, however, that has not been activated despite claims from Flamengo that the transfer is guaranteed.
That deal does not have the same time constraints as the ones for Cedric, Luiz and Ceballos. Arsenal are currently in discussions with all three about potentially extending their stay at the club, but Goal has learned that agreements have yet to be reached with any.
Even though Cedric, who has yet to play a game since arriving at Arsenal in January, becomes a free agent this summer, talks over extending his stay still have to include Southampton as his registration with the south coast club does not end until June 30.
Luiz’s situation has been heavily publicised in the past week following the defender’s error-strewn display against Manchester City, with both the ex-Chelsea defender and Arteta admitting after the game that his mind was not in the right place due to doubts over his future.
The 33-year-old does want to stay and Arteta wants to keep him, with his need for the centre-back now even more pressing due to Mari’s injury. But Arsenal have so far been hesitant over handing Luiz a new deal. Ceballos, meanwhile, is expected to agree to a short-term extension, with the midfielder then heading back to Madrid at the end of the season.
Arsenal also have to agree to their players, who are currently out on loan with other clubs, signing short-term agreements to see out the season.
But there are also youngsters out on loan who need deals agreeing, including Jordi Osei-Tutu, who scored his fourth goal in his last 10 games for Bundesliga 2 side VfL Bochum on Sunday. Goal has been told that an agreement has already been reached for goalkeeper Dejan Iliev to stay with Polish side Jagiellonia Białystok until the end of the campaign.
Meanwhile, Arsenal are waiting for news on the extent of the injury suffered by Bernd Leno during Saturday’s defeat at Brighton.
The goalkeeper was stretchered off in the first half after landing awkwardly on his right knee having been shoved by Brighton striker Neal Maupay.
Specialists are expected to assess scans on the injury on Monday, with fears growing at Arsenal that the German may have damaged the cruciate ligament in his knee. Should that be confirmed, Leno could be sidelined for up to a year.
And the Gunners are also waiting to hear whether the Football Association will take action over Matteo Guendouzi’s conduct after the final whistle at Brighton on Saturday.
The Frenchman was pictured grabbing Maupay round his throat as tempers flared following the striker’s late winner, with the Arsenal players still aggrieved at the part he played in Leno’s injury.
When asked after the game whether he feared a ban for Guendouzi, Arteta said: “I don't know, I haven't see the action.
“I’ve seen a lot of players getting together but I don't know what happened. It's the frustration because we've thrown the game away and that's a reaction that can happen but I always believe that a player has no intention to get someone else injured.”