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Dec 9, 2010

Time for Arsenal to end the drought

With Arsenal sitting top of the Premier League and only Championship side Ipswich standing in the way of a place in the Carling Cup final, the same old burning question of just when the much-vaunted Gunners will end their trophy drought has resurfaced.

It is a question that has plagued all those associated with Arsenal for five barren years. For all the plaudits and breathtaking football, it is silverware that counts, and Arsene Wenger's last piece came via a penalty shootout victory over Manchester United in the 2005 FA Cup final. Patrick Vieira, a player on the cusp of a previous era, netted the winner with his last kick in an Arsenal shirt.

In the season prior, Wenger's 'Invincibles' claimed the Premier League title as they went on a 49-game unbeaten run and the club looked set to dominate English football for years to come. But Arsenal's peak coincided with a period of transition that saw the likes of Martin Keown, Ray Parlour, Nwankwo Kanu and Sylvain Wiltord leave the club. Robert Pires and Vieira quickly followed.

The breaking up of the team actually began the season before when goalkeeping legend David Seaman, who is second after Parlour in the all-time Premier League appearances chart for Arsenal, left the club following 13 years of solid service. And many would argue he is just one of a number of star players who have never been adequately replaced.

Seaman's final act with Arsenal was to lift the FA Cup at the Millennium Stadium following a 1-0 victory over Southampton in 2003 and despite leaving to join Kevin Keegan's Manchester City for a single season before retirement, he remains closely involved with the Gunners.

The England international helped Arsenal to win eight major trophies, but had little idea that the silverware would dry up shortly after his departure. Seaman is now "desperate" for the club to get back to winning ways and doesn't want to hear any more excuses about inexperience and youth, having come so close in previous years.

"We have got ourselves in some great positions, even last season. In the last four weeks we were in every competition and then we just went to pieces," Seaman told ESPNsoccernet. "People talk about it's been five years. It is quite annoying now. I'm desperate for Arsenal to get a trophy.

"People keep saying they are a young team and inexperienced but now they are experienced. They have felt what it is like to play in those big pressure games. So now hopefully they are going to step up to the next level and get a trophy down the Emirates - which I can't wait for."

The Carling Cup offers Arsenal the quickest chance to get that particular monkey off their back, with the final being played on the last weekend in February, and it has been suggested that Wenger has opted to field a stronger side than usual as he feels the pressure to deliver a concrete token of success. However, Seaman, who often drops in on Arsenal's training sessions, claims that is not necessarily the case.

"It's only a little bit. He might be putting players in that are coming back from injury. But he will still always play the reserves or even some of the youth team players. That's the way he does it and that's' the way he has always done it. He has even done it in the FA Cup a few times. I remember once when I didn't play any rounds apart from the final. They rolled me out for the final. I lifted the trophy. See you later."

Seaman believes it is not just the cup competitions that Arsenal should target. The Premier League title is also a realistic goal and two-time winner (he also won the old First Division in 1991) thinks that the experience of slipping off top spot as the campaign came to a climax last season will stand Arsenal in good stead now that they find themselves in a similar position this term.

"They were top last season so it is nothing new to them. They've always been near the top," Seaman explains. "These next few months will really tell whether they have gained enough experience to take it further or whether they are going to need another year."

But another year will inevitably prove too much for some of Arsenal's frustrated stars. Talismanic skipper Cesc Fabregas was on the brink of joining Barcelona in the summer and another trophyless season would almost certainly see him, and others, depart.

A number of Fabregas' old colleagues have already made the move away from Arsenal. Key duo Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor both joined the multi-million pound Manchester City revolution in July 2009, claiming a desire to win silverware as their motivation. Although Seaman thinks they "may be regretting" the move.

"When I left Arsenal and went to Manchester City I realised how good a club Arsenal is," the two-time Double winner said. "Maybe they are getting more money up at City. Who knows? But they made their choice."

The ex-Arsenal pair were just a small part of a massive recruitment drive that has seen City pay out over £100 million on transfer fees in each of the past two summers. The massive investment has transformed the Citizens into genuine contenders and although that might be bad news for Arsenal, Seaman feels it is good news for football.

"It's great to see. Alright, they have had a load of money pumped in, then they have got to go out and buy the players and then they have got to get the players to play with each other. You need a good manager for that and I don't know whether he is good enough at the moment.

"Chelsea did exactly the same and it just shows you that it can be done. If you can get all those players together, and the right manager, you can win things. At the moment that is what Man City look like they are going to do."

So if Seaman were still playing today and desperate to win trophies would he opt to join Wenger's Arsenal or nouveau riche Man City?

"Arsenal. No doubt at all," the 47-year-old affirms. "They are a formidable side and on their day they can beat anybody by a good three or four goals. And I mean anybody. I really do hope they win a trophy because some of the football they play is unbelievable."

Next up for the Gunners is a trip to Old Trafford to face Manchester United on Monday night for a tough match that is sure to provide a good barometer of Arsenal's trophy-winning potential.


David Seamen and Gavin Henson went head to head to beat the world record for the highest catch ever made for the UK's biggest game of Catch for Cadbury Spots v Stripes. - www.spotsvstripes.com.