New owner, same Arsenal

By Sam SheringhamBBC Sport at the Emirates
Emmanuel Eboue fouls Lucas Leiva
Arsenal have only won one of their last seven games in all competitions

On the upper tier of the Emirates Stadium, the dates of Arsenal's trophy wins are emblazoned in giant white numerals.

In between, fans have added their own banners, evoking the scenes of past Gunners glories: Anfield '89, Old Trafford '02 and so on.

But following the representation of the 2005 FA Cup success, there is a gap, a vast red space that, after Sunday's costly 1-1 draw with Liverpool, looks almost certain to remain print-free for at least another year.

It is a stark reminder of a barren run that has stretched far too long for the liking of the Gunners faithful and with new owner Stan Kroenke missing the Denver Nuggets' NBA play-off match to attend the match at the Emirates, Arsenal's players did a good job of laying bare the case for fresh investment in the squad.

A largely forgettable game had sprung to life when the hosts took the lead through a Robin van Persie penalty eight minutes into a stoppage-time extended because of a head injury suffered by Jamie Carragher in the 56th minute.

But there was an inevitability about the self-destructive streak that manifested itself in Emmanuel Eboue's needless barge into Lucas Leiva, conceding the penalty from which Dirk Kuyt equalised with the last kick of the game to condemn the Gunners to their third consecutive home league draw and all but end their title hopes.

"I can honestly say someone as experienced as Nigel Winterburn wouldn't have given that away," said former Arsenal defender Lee Dixon in his post-match analysis on Match of the Day 2. "It's little things like that, over the course of the season, that cost you the championship.

"In the space of a couple of minutes, Arsenal were in the title race and out of it. Carling Cup, FA Cup, Champions League, how many more blows can you have? I don't know whether they have got enough in the dressing room to turn this around. Whether they recover from this, time will tell."

For a side rightly celebrated for their attractive, attacking football, Arsenal's biggest failing in recent weeks has been a lack of goals, with the Gunners finding the net only seven times in their last seven games.

Against Liverpool, their first-choice front three of Van Persie, Samir Nasri and Theo Walcott were largely held at bay by a Liverpool defence reduced to the bare bones by injuries to Glen Johnson, Martin Kelly, Daniel Agger, Fabio Aurelio and Carragher, who was knocked out cold after a clash of heads with John Flanagan but recovered in time to watch the late drama from the dressing room.

When Nicklas Bendtner and Andriy Arshavin entered the fray in the second half, they did little to press their own case for a long-term future at the club, while Marouane Chamakh - so prolific early in the season - was not even summoned from the bench.

Former Arsenal striker John Hartson said spending money on a striker should be the Gunners' priority in the summer.

"I just don't think Bendtner and Chamakh are good enough," he said. "I feel they need that top, top striker who is going to stay in the box and give them 25 goals a season and help Robin van Persie. To take it to the next level, Arsene Wenger needs to go out and buy big on that front player."

With Manchester United six points clear with six games remaining, Arsenal must surely beat Tottenham at White Hart Lane on Wednesday night or face the ignominy of seeing their title hopes extinguished at the home of their north London rivals for the second season in a row.

Wenger described the Spurs match as a "big test of character" but when asked if it was the biggest test of his time at Emirates, he paused for some time as if mentally scrolling through the highs and lows of his 15 years at the helm. "I've had a few," was his wistful conclusion, before adding: "The hope is always there but, to keep the hope alive, it is up to us to win our games and to win our next game.

"We are on a 15-game unbeaten run but recently we have not taken enough points. Now we must give everything until the last game of the season and see if it is our year or not."

The Frenchman's opposite number, Kenny Dalglish, predicted plenty more "twists and turns" in the title race but preferred to focus on the efforts of his own players after seeing a young side featuring several academy graduates hold their own against the title-chasers in north London.

The 18-year-old Flanagan was playing only his second game at right back, while Aurelio's latest hamstring injury after 21 minutes gave 17-year-old Jack Robinson the chance to make his first appearance since his debut as a late substitute against Hull in the final game of last season.

With the tenacious Jay Spearing, 22, excelling in midfield and Jonjo Shelvey, 19, making his comeback from a two-and-a-half month injury layoff, Liverpool's line-up had a youthful feel that has long been the Gunners' trademark.

Dalglish praised the club's academy for at last unearthing a generation of local talent with the potential to inherit the legacy of Carragher and Steven Gerrard, but sounded a note of caution over the club's young charges.

"In the last year-and-a-half, the development and improvement in the academy has been fantastic," he said. "We've also got to be really careful that we don't throw them in and ruin them. That was a slight reservation about Jack playing at the Emirates, but he never let anyone down."

From the expressions on the faces of Arsenal fans as they streamed out of the Emirates, whether the same could be said about Eboue is extremely doubtful.