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Aug 29, 2006

Gunners misfiring

With two more patchy performances to add to the shaky opening day draw at home to Aston Villa, it is fair to say that Arsenal have hit the ground doddering rather than running this season. Last Wednesday's second-leg Champions League qualifier at home to Dinamo Zagreb at least finished up with the right result even if the manner of the performance was ponderous at times.

At Manchester City on Saturday, the Gunners suffered their first defeat away from home this term and, like so many similar performances last season, it was a tale of too many squandered chances when the going was good and ideas evaporating as the match wore on.

Arsenal have somewhat failed to fire the imaginations of their supporters over the opening three games of the season. Should we be concerned and getting impatient already? Well, certainly to already be eight points behind Manchester United and five behind Chelsea so early in the season, albeit with a game in hand, is daunting, particularly considering that teams winning the title over the last five years have done so by hardly losing any games.

Teams like United and Chelsea are capable of putting together long winning runs that make them hard to peg back. In doing so they also exert pressure on their rivals, making each of their matches a 'must win' encounter. So to concede any ground to them now will make for an uphill battle later.

On the bright side, this Arsenal team can clearly still play when they want to. So far, they have not completely found their rhythm or a ruthlessness in front of goal that they are going to need to finish off teams like Manchester City, but they have shown glimpses of the form and free-flowing football that supporters expect from Arsenal teams these days. The main ingredient that seems to be lacking is a mean streak. How Arsene Wenger intends to remedy this remains to be seen.

With the transfer window only four days away from shutting, it seems clear that reinforcements are required. The question is how many and what kind of players does the manager intend to bring in? It would be hugely disappointing, and a little worrying, for all Arsenal fans to see Thursday pass without any new arrivals. Even Wenger himself has admitted the squad is 'a little light'.

Additionally, the resolution of the sagas of Ashley Cole and Jose Antonio Reyes will also help settle the squad. It is frustrating that the issues surrounding these two players have also been a distraction in the preparations for the start of the season. From Arsenal supporters' point of view, the situation is clear-cut. If they, or any other player in the squad for that matter, do not want to play for the team, they must be shown the door immediately.

No player is bigger than Arsenal Football Club and the club will still be going strong long after all these player have retired and slipped to the back of people's memories. From the Club's point of view though, transfer values need to be maximised. Consequently, matters have dragged on a lot longer than is ideal and the sooner both episodes are concluded, the better.

It has been a disappointing start to the campaign, but with a break for international games coming up, Arsenal have the chance to regroup and start anew at home to Middlesbrough on 9th September. This game is swiftly followed by a trip to Hamburg for Arsenal's opening match in the Champions League proper and then the small matter of facing Manchester United at Old Trafford on 17th September. Good results and positive performances in those three games could really light the fuse of Arsenal's season - and we really need some fireworks, because so far it has been a bit of a damp squib.


• If you have comments on this article then email the author David Young.

• Read more from all Soccernet Correspondents here.