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Europa League round of 16 draw

Europa League

Lack of pace at the heart of Gunners' slump

Maybe there is too much conspiring against Arsene Wenger for him to appreciate the scale of his side's demise.

A tenth unbeaten game was viewed by Arsenal's manager as compelling proof that his master plan is ticking along very nicely, yet reality may eventually get in the way of his blurred vision after their latest Emirates Stadium disappointment ended in an all-too predictable stalemate.

While it was frustrating enough for Arsenal fans when their team created 15-20 chances a game and struggled to score the goals they should have done, their problems now are all the more vivid as those openings are no longer being carved out. In truth, this was a comfortable afternoon for a Hammers side content to leave with a point and that says much about how far Arsenal have slipped down the ladder.

Fifth place now seems to be a natural spot for a side whose midfield has been ripped apart by injuries to Cesc Fabregas, Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott, yet it is bizarre that Wenger did not appreciate the problems in that area of his team and move to strengthen in the January transfer window.

Andrei Arshavin may be about to sign and his arrival cannot come quickly enough for a team whose lack of pace and incisive passing in the centre of the park suggests they will continue to struggle unless they find a new route to goal.

Even Wenger was forced to admit his side have lost their way as he faced the media after this latest setback. "We need to find more keys to unlock defences of teams who try to stop us playing," accepted Wenger, clearly hinting his side's lack of a Plan B is flaw in their make-up.

"West Ham defended well and deserve some credit because they worked hard from start to finish and made it very difficult for us, but we must look for alternative routes to goal when we get stuck in these games.

"I know people will portray this result as scandalous because everyone seems to be very negative about my team at the moment, but I just felt it was a day when we lacked sharpness after tough week that saw us play in Cardiff and Everton.

"It does not concern me that we have missed a chance to close the gap on Aston Villa because they do not interest me. My only focus is on my own team and if we win our games, there is no doubt in my mind we will end up where we want to be."

When this reporter suggested Wenger was a little deluded in believing the current Arsenal side are good enough to win the Premier League this season, the abuse flowed from all quarters. However, as another month passes without a convincing performance to silence the doubts, there comes a point where all will have to appreciate this is a team in need of a makeover.

Russian Arshavin could help to fill part of the midfield void, yet Wenger admitted the deal to sign the Russian is far from complete. "I don't know if we will be signing Arshavin," he claimed. "I cannot say what the problem is, but we will have to do something in the next 24 hours or the deal cannot go through."

Arshavin's invention would have been useful to Wenger against West Ham lacking the strength and speed required to unlock a rock solid defence. The speedy passing that was Arsenal's trademark down the years has been replaced by more patient and cautious football of late and their lack of width is also a concern.

It's becoming cruel on unfortunate full-back Emmanuel Eboue for Wenger to continue to play him in a role he clearly loathes on the right of the midfield. A decent defender, he is a fish out of water in midfield and had a woeful first 35 minutes in this game. A crunching tackle by Scott Parker gave him a chance to make an early exit and you couldn't help but suspect his injury was as convenient as it was painful. You suspect he was delighted to get into the safety of the dressing room.

This reporter witnessed Eboue's tearful departure as he had to be pulled out of the game against Wigan as Arsenal fans jeered him from the stands, yet Wenger is not doing his player any favours by continually asking him to do a job that is beyond him.

It was also curious to see Robin van Persie left out of the Arsenal starting line-up in favour of Nicklas Bendtner. The Dutchman has been in red hot form in the last few weeks and should have been given a chance build on his growing confidence, but Wenger clearly felt he needed a more physical presence leading his line.

As it was, the first half passed with little incident and that, of course, suited the Hammers far more than their favoured opponents. Playing with Carlton Cole leading their line, Gianfranco Zola's men must have been surprised to reach the break with so much comfort. Only an early header from Abou Diaby threatened their goal as it flicked off the top of the bar.

Indeed, the Hammers so nearly snatched an unlikely half-time advantage as James Collins headed towards goals and saw his effort nodded off the line by Gael Clichy. It was tepid stuff on a freezing North London afternoon.

The second half was an example of how far Emmanuel Adebayor appears to have fallen in the last six months. Togo's finest export was the star turn for Arsenal throughout last season, but he missed the chances that would have given Wenger's side a fortunate win against a dogged West Ham side who fully deserved the point they came for.

"We didn't come to defend," argued Hammers assistant boss, Steve Clarke. "Arsenal forced us back and we needed to stay firm at the back to leave with a hard won point. I thought the lads at the back were first class for us."

Soccernet's Insider would love to find a silver lining in Arsenal's slump to fend off his army of critics who feel he comes to the Emirates Stadium with a pre-determined agenda, but this was another day when they backed up the theory that they are a side in decline. Wenger and the rest who believe Arsenal's slump is merely a dip in form do so at their peril.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Scott Parker
The West Ham midfielder broke up plenty of Arsenal attacks as his crunching tackles and fine reading of the game frustrated the Gunners.

FOOD WATCH: An offering of sausage and mash was well appreciated, though the half-time fish and chips were considered a step too far for the slimming Insider. Arsenal legend Kenny Sansom made a press room appearance and he was clearly lapping up all the food on offer as he is looking like a sumo wrestler these days.

HOW COLD? Soccernet's Insider opted to spend the final five minutes of this game in the vast Emirates Stadium press room as his fingers turned blue and he struggled to hit the right buttons on his keyboard. This was one cold day in North London.

ARSENAL VERDICT: Pace has been lost from Arsenal's attacks and it is making life a lot easier for their opponents. With a fully fit squad, Wenger would still have a top class team, but the reality is he is a long way short of that just using his reserves.

WEST HAM VERDICT: Gianfranco Zola was among the front runners to in the Premier League sack race not so long ago, so he deserves credit for finding a successful formula with his Hammers.


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