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Time running out for Robbo

In the week that has seen a host of candidates go through a round of formal interviews for the England manager's job, Bryan Robson could be forgiven for wondering where it all went wrong.

After all, this was the talismanic hero who led England with such drive and passion during a playing career that looked certain to pave the way to a successful progression into management and for a time, that long written script seemed to be following its natural course.

Looking dashing in a suit and always a decent performer before the media, Robson was tipped to be either Manchester United or England manager by now, yet at a time when the Football Association have been scratching their heads as they assess a bunch of less than inspiring candidates for their top job, the artist formerly known as 'Captain Marvel' has not even come close to being a contender for the post.

His initial success at Middlesbrough should have paved the way for something much more glamorous, but after outstaying his welcome at the Riverside, his coaching reputation plummeted to a depth that few have recovered from. Indeed, not even his remarkable achievement in keeping Albion in the top flight on the final day of last season revived his flagging image and now he is facing up the ultimate indignity of relegation.

By the time England set out on a World Cup campaign that could lead to the glory in Germany this summer, Robson may well be in a position where his golf handicap is a more pressing concern that the game he once mastered. Demotion for the Baggies would doubtless lead to his demise at the Hawthorns and from there, you wonder how he would get back into the game.

Premiership club chairmen will only hire coaches who will bring instant success and Robson is now viewed as damaged goods. After a campaign that could and should have brought so much more for an improved Albion side, such a condemnation may be harsh.

Had Robson's strikers done their job this term, he would now be planning for a third successive season in the Premiership as of all the sides in the bottom four, the Baggies have tossed away the most points. Ask Albion fans to pick out games that could have brought more points for their side this season and you could be in for a long and painful post mortem, with the likes of Diomansy Kamara, Kanu and Kevin Campbell among the chief culprits.

It means they find themselves trying to manufacture a couple of unlikely results in the final handful of games that could have been used for something much more sedate like building for next season. Looking at their remaining fixtures, you don't give the Baggies too much hope of clambering out of the hole they have dug for themselves.

This game at Highbury was the first of a tricky looking run-in that would be daunting without the pressures of relegation hanging over them and Robson's decision to start with just one up front suggested his chief objective initially was to contain the most deadly attacking side in the league. When the initial Gunners storm failed to materialise, Robson switched to a 4-4-2 and his ambition could only be admired.

Robson's positive move of adding Kanu to his front line was proof that he was growing in confidence and it should have had a similar impact on his players. Striking a calm and composed figure on the touchline, Albion's manager and his assistant Nigel Pearson took every opportunity to talk get instructions out to their players and after 43 minutes, they could have had no complaints about the pattern of the action.

Nigel Quashie had gone closest to opening the scoring with a well struck long range effort, and with Henry missing from close range, they must have been thinking that this was to be their day. However, Albion have proved time and time again that they have an ability to hit a self-destruct button and while Arsenal's passing was superb in the run up to Alex Hleb's opener on the stroke of half-time, a meaty challenge in the build-up may have stopped the Gunners in their tracks.

Not for the first time this season, Albion went in for the half-time break wondering how they were trailing, with the 'here we go again' syndrome threatening to undermine Robson's half-time briefing.

The sight of Henry being hauled off by Wenger some half an hour from time as he saved his talisman for Champions League action on Wednesday should have given Albion hope and, for once, they looked capable of taking advantage when Nigel Quashie fired them level with 17 minutes to go.

That before they again fluffed their lines at the back to give Robert Pires one stab too many to restoring Arsenal's lead, with Dennis Bergkamp's late curling special merely the icing on the Gunners cake. That final goal was fitting on a day Arsenal FC had declared as 'Bergkamp Day', a move that can be politely described as childish and embarrassing.

Listening to the Albion press pack you got the impression that they felt the die had been cast in the Baggies battle to survive and even after another spirited display, Robson looked more crestfallen than normal as he faced the media.

He had every right to bemoan the lack of a penalty decision in his favour as referee Mike Dean failed to spot Eboue's kick on Curtis Davies in the box when the score was 2-1, but accepts time is now running out after a day that saw Portsmouth remarkable revival reap another three points.

"This result simplifies things for us," he suggested. "It means we now have to win our final two home games to put any kind of pressure on Portsmouth and looking at what was another good performance, I'm confident we can do that.

"The games are running out now and we have to keep believing we will get out of this. What encourages me is that the performances are still there and as long as that is the case, we are giving ourselves a real chance.

"The final score line does not reflect this game as a while and as far as I'm concerned, the referee has cost us the game by missing a blatant penalty. Eboue lashed out and I don't know how he missed it. I can only hope a decision goes our way at some point because we haven't been given anything this season."

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was in reflective mood as he suggested his side's indifferent display was due to Champions League distractions. "I feel we had one eye on the Champions League game against Villarreal, so it was vital that we managed to get the three points," stated the Arsenal boss. "We deserved to win the game with the chances we created, but I have to give Albion credit for battling so hard.

"You don't play in Champions League semi-finals every day of the week and the players looked as if they wanted to get to that game without any worries and thankfully we have not picked up any more injuries."

Had life had worked out a little differently for Bryan Robson, he could have been the one worrying about the demands of a Champions League semi-final this week, yet the theory that he would one day manage Manchester United or England has been banished for good.

Instead, whether he likes it or not, his future in the beautiful game looks only slightly more optimistic than bleak.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Alex Hleb - Much was expected of this midfielder when he arrived from Stuttgart last summer and it has taken him a little too long to settle. Still, we are seeing the best of Hleb now and this was a composed performance.

FOOD WATCH: The usual, with the hot meat pies, chicken wings and bagels being snapped up.

SAME OLD STORY: Those Japanese students conned their way into another press room, with Junichi Inamoto's appearances on the Albion bench apparently being enough to earn them a free day out at Highbury.

INJURY UPDATE: Arsene Wenger revealed Cesc Fabregas should recover from his foot injury in time to face Villarreal on Wednesday night.

BAGGIES VERDICT: This was a long way from being a sub-standard performance and even if this Albion side goes down, there is every chance that it is better than the one which survived in dramatic fashion on the final day of last season. That will be little consolation if what is quickly becoming the inevitable is confirmed in the next few weeks.

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