Finishing inside the Premier League’s top four is now a “fantasy” for Arsenal, says Charlie Nicholas, with attention switching from collective efforts and towards individuals such as Mesut Ozil and Nicolas Pepe.
A sorry slump for the Gunners, which has delivered one win across 15 games in all competitions, has left them languishing in 12th spot.
Mikel Arteta has taken the reins, with the Spaniard appointed as the permanent successor to fellow countryman Unai Emery.
He will have been fully aware of what he was getting himself into, with a serious rebuild required at the Emirates Stadium.
That is going to take time, with the 2019-20 campaign almost at the point of being written off.
Former Gunners striker Nicholas is reluctant to do that, but concedes that Champions League qualification spots have probably slipped out of sight.
With that in mind, the Scot is looking for Arteta to put foundations in place on which future success can be built, with key men such as Ozil and Pepe set to play important roles in that process.
Nicholas told Sky Sports: “I cannot give up on them, but Arsenal can't buy a win at the moment, although it does seem more promising.
“There is more fight in there, no confidence, but there is a shape and a tendency to go and try to squeeze the ball.
“Mesut Ozil is playing better, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is still scoring goals and Bukayo Saka has been class at left-back despite being an attacker.
“You cannot plan for the Bernd Leno howler [in a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea], but the defence was better but still vulnerable, as were the midfield protectors.”
Nicholas added ahead of a New Year’s Day home date with Manchester United: “They need a win and it is not about closing the gap to the top four as that is fantasy for them this year.
“Mikel Arteta started with a draw and a harsh defeat so it is time for them to get a win.
“Man Utd will be very dangerous on the counter-attack, but Reiss Nelson has been decent, and Arteta could give Nicolas Pepe a start. He may just be ready to come and do something.”
Pepe has endured a testing start to life in England following a club-record £72 million ($95m) move to Arsenal over the summer, with just four goals recorded through 20 games.
Ozil has also faced plenty of questions regarding his value to the Gunners cause, but the World Cup winner did offer signs of encouragement against Chelsea and remains a match-winner on his day.