Reality bites for Wenger as slump continues

LONDON - Just seven games into the Premier League season, Arsene Wenger all but conceded an Arsenal title challenge after a 2-1 defeat at North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.

A fourth defeat was compounded by a serious injury to France right-back Bacary Sagna and Wenger was in a gloomy mood when asked about Arsenal's chances of competing at the top.

"At the moment we have to set ourselves a realistic target to get in touch with those teams who are fighting to stay in the Champions League," Wenger told reporters.

"To say we will win the league is not realistic. We are 12 points behind Manchester United and Manchester City so it is not realistic today to say that we will win the league.

"We have to fight to come back into a much better position."

Sagna fell awkwardly under challenge from Benoit Assou-Ekotto in the second half and after leaving the field on a stretcher he was diagnosed with a fractured fibula, according to the French Football Federation.

"The France team doctor, Fabrice Bryand, was informed by his Arsenal colleague of an unstable fracture to Bacary Sagna's right fibula," the FFF statement said.

Since Wenger took charge of Arsenal in 1996 they have never finished outside the top four and are virtual fixtures in the Champions League. But their worst start to a season under the Frenchman has now put their place among the elite in jeopardy.

Wenger was even asked whether he was thought Arsenal, only two points above the bottom three, were in danger of a relegation battle.

"No," was his emphatic reply, although with Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri gone and Jack Wilshere ruled out until after Christmas with an ankle injury, these are clearly worrying times at Emirates Stadium.

The mood was not improved by the sight of Sagna leaving the ground on crutches although Wenger saw some encouraging signs against Tottenham, who won a fourth consecutive league match with goals from Rafael van der Vaart and Kyle Walker either side of Aaron Ramsey's equaliser.

"In the first half I felt we played a little but with the handbrake on," Wenger said. "Even playing like that we had four chances. At half-time we came out and had a go at them and got it back to 1-1.

"I felt again that we didn't push on enough and let them get back into the game. We lack a little bit of confidence at the moment, and we just need to protect a result when we have one."

Wenger, was rattled by questions over his failure to shake hands with Clive Allen, one of Tottenham's coaching staff, and felt Van der Vaart's opening goal should not have been allowed.

"It is frustrating as well because their first goal was handball," Wenger said. "I wonder what the linesmen do in these situations. It is a second yellow card as well because he already had one - for handball, on purpose."

Tottenham have gone from strength to strength since losing their opening two league games to Manchester United and Manchester City and are up to sixth place, three points behind fourth-placed Newcastle United with a game in hand.

"They [Arsenal] got off to a better start in the second half, got the goal, and watching the game you would have thought, 'they are in the ascendency. We could be in trouble'," Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp said.

"But we upped it. We got better and stronger and we took over. We deserved the win in the second half, I thought we were excellent. We had all the good chances."