Arsene Wenger is deeply concerend that Arsenals unbroken 15-year Champions League status is under its greatest threat. Photo by: Nigel Roddis

Arsene Wenger has been here before. His team have moved from behind; they have closed a gap. Once it would be to win the title, more recently to clinch a top four finish.

His faith is strong, but, unusually this year, there is a trace of doubt in his language which betrays his concern that Arsenal’s unbroken 15-year Champions League status is under its greatest threat.

‘Last season we came from further behind and finished third but Chelsea are a bit away from us,’ said Wenger. ‘The game we lost on Sunday had difficult consequences.’

Arsenal go into tonight’s derby at home to West Ham in sixth place and desperate for victory after defeats by top four rivals Manchester City and Chelsea. West Bromwich and Liverpool are behind on goal difference. Swansea lurk a point further back. In terms of points, the bottom is nearer than the top.

The Gunners have mauled teams but the manager’s creeping concern is that they have taken only five points from a possible 21 against teams above them.

‘We do not win the big games,’ said Wenger. ‘That is more worrying than the difference in points. The difference in points is not dramatic, but the consistency of our performances within games is worrying.

‘When you see us in the first half and the second half it is difficult to believe that we are the same team. The position we are in is a bit backs-to-the-wall. We have to respond. I’m confident that we will, but the team was very down after the Chelsea game.

‘The players come away thinking, “We could have done better”. But when you look at the first half we lost goals we shouldn’t lose, 50-50s you cannot lose in big games.

‘You can say what you want but you have to go with a mentality in big games based on belief and total commitment. Last year we could win big games and on Sunday you come out of the game and think, “What is happening?”

‘I don’t question the players’ character. The attitude is fantastic. They do care. They want to do well and are focused. Maybe they are a bit too respectful of other teams in the big games. That is what we have to change.’

Fail to beat the Hammers and Liverpool will visit the Emirates next week with the chance to skip past Arsenal.

‘There is no untouchable team in the country at the moment, that is for sure,’ said Wenger, but if Arsenal wilt against their domestic rivals, what chance is there of winning their first European Cup to secure a return to the competition next season?

There is no Robin van Persie to inspire a recovery. No-one has replaced his firepower or his leadership despite the best efforts of Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere. It is no mystery.

‘I don’t know where you go and buy a player of Van Persie’s quality,’ said West Ham boss Sam Allardyce. ‘Everyone says it’s great business in terms of his age but it’s not really for Arsene Wenger when he can’t replace the goals he’s lost.’

Wenger’s squad also looks alarmingly thin. Nicklas Bendtner, Denilson, Marouane Chamakh and Johan Djourou have been loaned out but the numbers have not been replaced.

Francis Coquelin has a hamstring injury, Mikel Arteta has a calf strain, Abou Diaby is struggling after so long out and Tomas Rosicky is injured again after the splendid form which preceded the offer of a new contract last year.

Wenger will consider using a defender in the midfield void as transfer rumours swirl, including a possible loan deal for Lyon’s Yoann Gourcuff and a £3.5million move for West Ham’s Mohamed Diame.

No-one has been recruited this month and players are opting for elsewhere — like Wilfried Zaha, destined for Manchester United after being heavily scouted by Wenger despite his claim that he was never in for the Crystal Palace winger.

Do prime targets view Arsenal as a fading force? Once it was the place every young player wanted to go.

These are the doom-laden prophecies that Wenger suspects are damaging his team psychologically. But if it truly harms self-belief and performances, then there really is a lack of backbone and maturity in the dressing room, as Sol Campbell suggested.

‘We have to raise ourselves beyond that,’ said Wenger. ‘From now until the end of the season we have to really stand up and show our strength and character. We cannot waste any points now.’

P W D L F A GD Pts

Man Utd 23 18 2 3 57 30 27 56

Man City 23 15 6 2 45 19 26 51

Chelsea 23 13 6 4 47 22 25 45

Tottenham 23 12 5 6 40 28 12 41

Everton 23 9 11 3 35 26 9 38

Arsenal 22 9 7 6 41 26 15 34

Liverpool 23 9 7 7 40 28 12 34

West Brom 23 10 4 9 33 32 1 34

Swansea 23 8 9 6 34 27 7 33

Stoke 23 6 11 6 22 27 -5 29

Sunderland 23 7 7 9 27 31 -4 28

West Ham 22 7 6 9 25 28 -3 27

Norwich 23 6 8 9 24 39 -15 26

Fulham 23 6 7 10 33 40 -7 25

Southamptn 23 5 8 10 30 40 -10 23

Newcastle 23 5 6 12 28 41 -13 21

Aston Villa 23 4 8 11 19 44 -25 20

Reading 23 4 7 12 28 43 -15 19

Wigan 23 5 4 14 25 43 -18 19

QPR 23 2 9 12 18 37 -19 15

Kick-off: 7.45pm Emirates Stadium.

Referee: Andre Marriner. – Daily Mail