LONDON Arsenal's despondent manager Arsene Wenger was left to assess the consequences of a "damaging" and "worrying defeat" after a toothless 3-0 reverse at relegation-threatened Crystal Palace on Monday left their top-four aspirations in jeopardy.
After a run of five defeats in eight Premier League games, Arsenal have fallen from second to sixth -- seven points behind fourth-placed Manchester City who have played a game more.
In late January, Wenger's side were the nearest challengers to leaders Chelsea but they now find themselves level on points with seventh-placed Everton, who have played two matches more.
During Arsenal's plummet out of title contention only West Ham United and the bottom two, Middlesbrough and Sunderland, have collected fewer points.
"It's damaging, of course" Wenger, who has led Arsenal to 20 successive top-four finishes, told Sky Sports. "It's very worrying and disappointing the way we lost the game.
"On that front, that is the most difficult for us. It has consequences on our chances to be in the top four.
"Every defeat is a big worry. I've managed over 1,100 games for Arsenal and we're not used to that. It's a big worry.
"Unfortunately, it is like that and we have to respond very quickly and not accept it. I'm disappointed and determined to put things right."
The manner of the defeat at a buoyant Selhurst Park was of particular concern for a side who were outmuscled and outplayed in a performance that reflected a dire few months for the Gunners.
Andros Townsend, Yohan Cabaye and Luka Milivojevic scored for Palace, who were dominated the match and could have scored more goals. Arsenal, meanwhile, did not have a single shot on target in the second half.
Amid widespread concern about the team's recent performances under Wenger from disgruntled supporters, the Frenchman has had to deal with almost incessant questioning about his future.
"I face it in every press conference at the moment but tonight I'm not in the mood to speak about it," he told the BBC.
"Tonight the worry is not me, it's the fact we lost a big game and that's a big worry. We are in a difficult position.
"What counts is how we perform on the pitch, the players and myself and I feel everyone is focused in the club to do it."
Arsenal now face lowly Middlesbrough in the league next Monday before an FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City.
(Reporting by Tom Hayward; Editing by Ken Ferris)