Arsenal’s 4-0 loss at the San Siro on Wednesday could have implications far beyond just elimination from the Champions League. In fact, the heavy defeat and disappointing performance could be the force that reduces Arsenal’s season to ash.

Before the match against AC Milan, Arsene Wenger made an excellent point. He said, “You could say that the crisis at the moment in England is a bit like fire. It moves very quickly from one club to another. It’s like a fire with strong wind so you have to be a bit cautious because it can quickly come back. The wind can blow it quickly back.

“This is the important time for us. Before the week started, I said that this week would be vital for us. We have to show now [that we can capitalize] and not consider too much whether it’s Chelsea or us. It’s down to us to do well and hopefully we will do it.”

The flames of crisis have not yet reached the Emirates Stadium, but the situation is certainly heating up. Last season should provide a perfect example of what the Gunners need to avoid this time around. Last season, Arsene Wenger’s side crashed out of the Carling Cup, Champions League, and FA Cup in quick succession. As a result of those soul-crushing experiences, Arsenal’s league form dropped down to relegation level and they were forced out of the title race. In the end, they settled for fourth place.

Unlike last season, Arsenal is nowhere near the top of the table, so a drop in Premier League form could have a much more devastating effect. The punishments for not qualifying for the Champions are many — loss of revenue, inability to lure top players, and possibly the loss of Robin van Persie.

The next four games are critical for the Gunners. First, they will visit the Stadium of Light for the second time in seven days to play Sunderland in the fifth round of the FA Cup. If Arsenal fail to advance, Gooners will be left without a trophy once again while they continue to pay the highest season ticket prices in Europe. More importantly, the ‘crisis fire’ will start to singe Arsene Wenger’s suit jacket.

After the Sunderland match, Arsenal enter a tough run of fixtures that sees them face Tottenham at home, Liverpool away, and Newcastle at home. In between the Liverpool and Newcastle games, the second leg of the Champions League tie against Milan will take place, but has basically been rendered meaningless at this point. Still, this run of four matches will decide Arsenal’s season.

The doomsday scenario would be for the Gunners to lose all four matches. Considering Arsenal’s propensity to go on long barren stretches, this turn-of-events is not out of the question.

Arsenal have endured two terrible periods so far this season. The first of these came at the beginning of the season, when they took 7 points from a possible 21 in the Premier League. The second barren stretch occurred mostly in the month of January. During that period of time, the Gunners took one point from a possible 12. Another similarly terrible string of results could sink Arsene Wenger’s team for good.

For this reason, it is essential that Arsenal bounce back from their 4-0 embarrassment in Italy. A good opportunity will present itself against Sunderland, a side they defeated 2-1 last Saturday. Arsene Wenger will need to perform damage-control on the confidence of the squad before the FA Cup clash. If not, and the Gunners fall to the Black Cats, the flames could engulf the Emirates Stadium.

On the positive side, Arsenal’s competitors for that top four spot also have their share of problems. Liverpool and Chelsea are embroiled in controversy and drama while Newcastle recently suffered a heavy defeat against Spurs. Taking into account all of the unfortunate happenings around Arsenal this season, finishing in the top four would certainly be a great accomplishment for Arsene Wenger and his team.

The hope is still alive for the Gunners, even after they were crushed by AC Milan in the Champions League. But the fire needs to be quickly put out before it spreads.