If this was the start of the final sprint in the race for the top four, then Arsenal have just stumbled dramatically out of the blocks.
Things had been going swimmingly for Mikel Arteta’s side in the Premier League in 2022, with the Gunners winning six of their last seven games ahead of Monday night’s trip to Crystal Palace.
But with the pressure on following Tottenham’s 5-1 drubbing of Newcastle 24 hours earlier, Arsenal produced their worst performance in months as they crashed to a shambolic 3-0 defeat Selhurst Park.
It’s a defeat that keeps them fifth, below Spurs on goal difference, although they do still have one game in hand on their north London rivals.
But perhaps more worryingly, it’s a defeat that raises big questions about whether Arteta’s side have what it takes to stay the pace during the final weeks of the season.
They were without Kieran Tierney due to a knee injury and there are fears the Scotland left-back could be out for the remainder of the season with the problem, which was picked up on international duty.
Tierney, who will have a scan on Tuesday to determine the full extent of the issue, was replaced by Nuno Tavares on the left hand side of the back four and the 22-year-old endured a torrid time.
The summer signing from Benfica was beaten at the back post by Joachim Andersen in the build up to Jean-Philippe Mateta’s opening goal for Crystal Palace and was then caught flat-footed by Jordan Ayew, who doubled the home side’s lead on 24 minutes after an error by Gabriel Magalhaes.
Tavares was replaced at half-time by Arteta, with Gabriel Martinelli coming on.
It was the second successive time that the Portuguese full-back had failed to even make it back out for the second half when handed a start by Arteta.
And with Tierney potentially out for the remainder of the campaign, that is a major problem with nine games still remaining.
Arsenal ended last season with Granit Xhaka as a makeshift left-back and it cost them dearly in the big moments, most notably in the latter stages of the Europa League.
It could be that history now repeats itself with the Champions League once again on the line.
And to make matters even worse for the visitors, they lost Thomas Partey to what appeared to be a thigh injury midway through the second half.
The Ghana international signalled that he needed to come off, but the hosts broke through Wilfried Zaha before the ball could be kicked out of play and were awarded a penalty when Martin Odegaard tripped the Palace winger.
Zaha, so often the scourge of Arsenal in recent years, made no mistake from the spot to pile even misery on Arteta’s shell-shocked side.
Partey limped off before the penalty was taken. It could be a while before we see the midfielder in action again.
His form alongside Granit Xhaka in midfield has been a big part of Arsenal’s recent form so a prolonged spell on the sidelines will be another major worry for Arteta.
There was at least some improvement from Arsenal after the interval and they did have some chances, with Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard both wasting glorious opportunities and Eddie Nketiah hitting the woodwork.
But the visitors were still well beaten. Outplayed and outfought all over the pitch.
Arteta now has to try and raise his players ahead of Saturday’s game against Brighton.
This is of course just their third league defeat since December and they do still have Champions League qualification in their own hands.
But with Tottenham looking increasingly impressive under Antonio Conte and with Tierney and Partey potentially facing long-term spells in the treatment room, Arteta’s small squad is going to be tested to its limits in the coming weeks.
The way they respond to this truly disastrous night in south London will go a long way to deciding how their season pans out.