LONDON, March 2 – Arsenal's hopes of reaching the Champions League might remain in intensive care, but a remedy could be close at hand.
There are few more effective cures for stuttering sides than a trip to West Bromwich Albion, rooted to the foot of the English Premier League table and embarrassed owners of the worst defensive record in the division, and it is to Arsenal’s immense good fortune that they are the next visitors to the Hawthorns on Tuesday night.
The north Londoners’ goalscoring problems are now officially chronic. They played out their fourth consecutive goalless draw in Saturday’s local derby against Fulham – their longest barren run since October 1993, when
George Graham was the club’s manager – and were only spared an eight-point deficit to fourth-placed Aston Villa by an unlikely two-goal comeback from Stoke City at Villa Park on Sunday.
Arsenal remain six points adrift of Martin O’Neill’s team, but at present Wenger is grateful for small mercies.
His team have lost the pep and panache which once made them England’s most renowned cavaliers, partly due to bad luck – injuries to key creative forces such as Cesc Fabregas, Emmanuel Adebayor, Eduardo da Silva, Theo
Walcott and Tomas Rosicky, none of whom will be available for the trip to the West Midlands, would take their toll on any side – but also downright sloppiness.
There has been none of the trademark zip or spark to Arsenal’s passing game in recent weeks and teams are finding it alarmingly easy to contain them, as Fulham highlighted again at the weekend.
Wenger refutes the notion that this is the darkest spell of his time in charge of the club, but the boos which now routinely ring out at full-time at the Emirates suggest that faith is being eroded.
"When you don’t score for a while and you’re Arsenal FC, people ask you why and you have to give an answer,"
Wenger said. "It’s the first time we have had a problem like this, because in the past we have conceded too many goals.
"I would rather people blame me than the players. I don’t know if the fans are losing faith, that’s not my worry: I have to do what I believe is right and we have to keep going.
"We are going through a time when we are questioned but this is not the toughest time. Every defeat or draw is tough for me, I don’t compare with other periods. It’s not satisfying at the moment but we have to see where we are at the end of the season."
ony Mowbray, the West Brom manager, has been similarly insistent in his pleas for patience with his own supporters, who are beginning to question whether his commitment to a purist passing game has effectively sacrificed their chances of survival.
Albion are reaching the point of no return in their battle to avoid the drop, with Saturday’s defeat at Everton – which followed a by-now familiar pattern of plenty of spurned chances and flaky defending – leaving them four points adrift of safety and with a markedly inferior goal difference.
But Mowbray is not about to compromise his principles, even if it ultimately costs the Baggies their top flight status.
"I do not believe we are that far away from being a pretty good team in the Premier League," Mowbray insisted.
"At the moment we do not have what is needed in our armoury. We have been looking for a defensive minded, destructive midfield player. But if the right one does not come along, we will not waste money on any old player."