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Page last updated at 12:32 GMT, Friday, 18 September 2009 13:32 UK

Missing link is hurting Gunners

Jonathan Pearce
By Jonathan Pearce
BBC football commentator

It has been a soap opera week for Arsenal, with more twists and turns than an EastEnders Christmas Day special.

Arsenal's players are dejected after going 2-0 down in Liege
Hit Arsenal once and they're likely to cave in again within a few moments

The script for the home match against Wigan looks pretty straightforward, but nothing ever seems simple for the Gunners these days. On paper it should be a comfortable home win, but if Wigan press with intensity early on they could pull off a shock.

I wasn't surprised Arsenal started slowly in Liege in their midweek Champions League game as they have been made to pay for being sluggish in the opening stages of European ties for years now.

Last season alone they went 1-0 down in the first 10 minutes at Roma and Villarreal and then Manchester United burst into a 2-0 lead at the Emirates inside the first 11 minutes in their disastrous semi-final second leg.

Standard Liege also knew that Arsenal now have a tendency to wilt under fierce pressure. Games they are dominating can suddenly bite them in the bottom because of defensive jitters. Hit them once and they're likely to cave in again within a few moments.

In November 2007, in Seville, Arsenal scored first but conceded two goals in 10 minutes as the Spaniards stepped up the tempo.

At Liverpool the following season they shipped two goals in the last four minutes and in the 4-4 draw at Anfield last season they folded from a seemingly unassailable lead.

The trend has been worryingly evident again in the Premier League. Sadly the quality of the second-half football against Manchester City at Eastlands last weekend was largely forgotten because of Emmanuel Adebayor's rampages.


But a game that could have gone either way was lost in a 10-minute three-goal City burst in the second half.

It had been the same story at Old Trafford two weeks before, where Man Utd scored twice in five minutes to turn a match that should have been won by Arsenal long before. Peeved by a penalty decision, they lost concentration and went down to a bizarre Abou Diaby own goal.

In the days of the famous five at the back (Seaman, Dixon, Keown or Bould, Adams and Winterburn), the need to maintain defensive discipline and shape was banged into the players at every training session. Individual errors were rare.

Now, too many are made too often by defenders who seem to rush headlong into situations, the tackle by Williams Gallas to give away the penalty in Belgium just the latest example.

Not since David Seaman has the club had a truly dominant and consistent keeper and not since Gilberto Silva and Mathieu Flamini left has there been an effective defensive midfielder to screen the centre-backs.

Arsene Wenger (left) and Alex Song
Wenger has put his faith in Alex Song in the Arsenal midfield

Alex Song has improved in the role, but a stats map in a daily newspaper on Thursday plotting his positional wandering revealed that he can get pulled out of the centre with ease.

As an attacking side they remain a joy to watch, but Arsenal's soft underbelly is exposed too often. Their football ideals are wonderful and Arsene Wenger is an exceptional man and manager, but he must be concerned with the frailties.

There seems to be no calming influence on the pitch at times - who is there to deliver the clarion call to "dig in" when it is necessary?

Off the pitch, it's been a good week for the club. The new Premier League insistence that clubs live within their means suits the Gunners as Wenger is the most financially prudent manager in the game.

In the years that have followed the Roman Abramovich financial revolution at Chelsea, Arsenal are the only club among the big five who have made a net transfer profit.

The new ruling being introduced that at least eight members of the squad have to be "home grown" for three years as youngsters will also suit Arsenal.

Many of you probably believe they sign too many foreign kids, but they are still bringing through the likes of Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere and their youth set up is one of the best in the world. As long as they get the kids at a young enough age, they will continue to thrive in this area.

As Wenger says, it is paramount for clubs to be able to indentify and select boys before they are 16. Any Fifa regulation banning that could lead to unscrupulous agents "buying" young players and then farming them off for their own agenda.

But on the pitch there have to be concerns, even if Wigan are beaten decisively on Saturday.

Jonathan Pearce will be discussing all matters Arsenal with ex-Gunners defender Martin Keown on Football Focus at 1215 BST on BBC One and on this website on Saturday, and will commentate on Arsenal v Wigan for Match of the Day, which will be on BBC One and this website at 2230 BST on Saturday.

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see also
Fabregas anger at Adebayor tackle
18 Sep 09 |  Premier League
Adebayor handed three-match ban
17 Sep 09 |  Premier League
Wenger delight at Arsenal spirit
17 Sep 09 |  Europe
Standard Liege 2-3 Arsenal
16 Sep 09 |  Europe
Benitez worried by quota quality
16 Sep 09 |  Premier League
Uefa overturns Eduardo diving ban
14 Sep 09 |  Europe
Wenger defends signing of youngsters
10 Sep 09 |  Arsenal
Wenger defends youth player moves
10 Sep 09 |  Arsenal
Man City 4-2 Arsenal
12 Sep 09 |  Premier League
Where the Premier League's players come from
17 Aug 09 |  Premier League

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