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Lowdown on Arsenal

Posted on 16 November 2001  - 12:00

Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) Football Club is located in North London. The club is also known as Spurs. Tottenham's home ground is White Hart Lane. The club motto is Audere est Facere (To dare is to do).

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has assessed that his current pool of players are the strongest squad that he has had at disposal since his arrival at Highbury.

With a number of new recruits, some of them English, this is supposed to be the season that the gap on Manchester United is finally to be bridged after finishing in the runners-up position for the past three seasons.

The current form guide does not suggest that this is going to be the case - and at the moment that goes for Manchester United too.

While it is a commendable achievement to finish in second spot and guarantee an automatic berth in the Champions League, there has not really been much of a sustained challenge to the Old Trafford outfit.

Whether the swollen European competition takes the edge off the chase for the top Premiership prize is another debate, but Wenger has gone on record as saying he would rather finish second than win the FA Cup.

But the FA Cup is a major prize and the winners go down in history. The 2001 vintage will now be remembered as the Michael Owen final when, in reality, it could and should have been tagged to any number of Arsenal players.

The look on the faces of the Gunners team when they were slumped on the turf in Cardiff as Liverpool leapt for joy suggests that, at that moment, the FA Cup was important after all.

A 'fox in the box' was what the likes of Thierry Henry were calling for after that defeat and Wenger responded by recruiting England under-21 star Francis Jeffers from Everton to fill that role.

The reasoning being that while Arsenal, on their game, play some of the finest football in the Premiership, if chances are not snaffled they do look to have a vulnerability that did not exist in the days of George Graham or when the Great Wall of Highbury were still in their pomp.

Seaman, Dixon, Bould or Keown, Adams and Winterburn are no longer a unit. With the exception of Winterburn and Bould they are still about, but rarely take the field at the same time.

It would be a daunting task for any manager to assemble a replacement. The defence was something Wenger did not have to tinker with when he arrived from Japan, it took care of itself, leaving the Frenchman to take care of matters at the creative end of the pitch.

It was always going to be a problem one day, and it could be Wenger's toughest challenge putting together a comparible back line.

To that end, he won the race for Sol Campbell and has the emerging talent of Ashley Cole to nurture on the left. The highly-rated goalkeeper Richard Wright arrived from Ipswich to put pressure on and eventually replace Seaman.

Giovanni Van Bronkhorst was signed from Rangers to offer a balance on the left missing since Marc Overmars' departure for Barcelona and Japanese midfielder Inamoto was also added to the squad.

It all adds up to a formidable collection of players, but it just hasn't quite happened on the pitch yet this season. Home form has been erratic in the Premiership, while all three Champions League away games have been lost.

These things take time, however, and it is not as if Arsenal are out of contention in any competition. But they might well regret the fact that they have not been able to profit from United's unfamiliar dip in fortunes.

When United lost to Liverpool last time out on the Sunday morning, Arsenal fell at home to Charlton in the afternoon in a game they pretty much dominated. It might just be one of those seasons when the prizes are up for grabs for any team with the composure to put a run together. It would make a nice change.

There is another factor that sits uneasily with Arsenal fans - the Wenger contract saga. The non-signing makes regular back page leads in the papers and, whatever the real case, it could have an unsettling effect as the season progresses.

One thing is for sure, despite relative success, Wenger will not want to eventually depart with the double of 1998 as the only silverware on his management CV.