Sun, Dec 05, 2004 - Page 22 News List

Gunners seem to have run out of ammunition


One victory in nine games, struggling in Europe and now out of the League Cup.

Is this really the same Arsenal team that was riding high at the top of the Premier League five weeks ago and won last season's title without losing a game?

According to manager Arsene Wenger, the Gunners are playing just as well but aren't getting the results because the squad has been hit by injuries.

"Results-wise, from what we expected, it is a crisis as we didn't expect to drop as many points as we have done recently. We cannot deny that," Wenger said in Friday.

"The spirit, morale and desire are high, but we have dropped our confidence level a bit.

"Four weeks ago, everyone said we were `invincible' and now, suddenly, we are `useless'. But sport isn't like that," the Arsenal manager said.

"If we're capable of going on a run four weeks ago, why aren't we capable of doing it now? We can't deny we are not winning and you can't say everything is perfect."

Wenger said Jermaine Pennant and Robin van Persie had joined Dennis Bergkamp, Gilberto, Pascal Cygan and Edu on the injury list.

"It means there is not a lot of possibility for innovation. But at the same time it is a good way for the same 15 or 16 players to say to themselves, `Come on let's get back strongly.'"

The problem is, Arsenal's players are getting into trouble again for being too physical on the field. That's restricting Wenger's team selection.

Arsenal will lose team captain and midfield general Patrick Vieira for three Champions League games after his red card against PSV Eindhoven last week. Dutch forward Van Persie appeared lucky to escape with a yellow card after trying to elbow Manchester United's Kieron Richardson in Wednesday's 1-0 League Cup loss at Old Trafford.

Sunday's 2-1 loss at Liverpool was the Gunners' second of the season and left Wenger's men five points behind Chelsea, which is now the strong favorite to take the title.

Both teams are at home on Saturday. Chelsea takes on mid-table Newcastle, while Arsenal faces lowly Birmingham, which is two points above the relegation zone.

Because the Chelsea-Newcastle game starts early for the benefit of live TV, Jose Mourinho's team could go eight points clear by the time Arsenal kicks off.

The bookmakers have made Chelsea a 28-1 shot to win four titles -- the league, Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup. Mourinho, who guided FC Porto to the UEFA Cup and Champions League in successive seasons as well as back to back Portuguese titles, sees no reason why the Blues can't do it.

"We are top of the league, we are top of the Champions League group and we are still in the League Cup," said Mourinho, whose team will face Manchester United in the League Cup semifinals in January. "At the beginning of the season, I am sure people never thought it was possible to be in this great position by now."

Arsenal was in the same situation this time last season, however, and wound up with just the league title.

Creeping up the table is Manchester United, which has won three league games in a row to move up to fourth.

The Reds are still nine points behind Chelsea. United manager Alex Ferguson added more spice to his rivalry with Wenger by saying he now regarded Chelsea, not Arsenal, as his biggest rival.

United also should benefit from a home game against Southampton, which is mired in the relegation zone with just two victories from its 15 games.

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