Wenger calls for patience from fans

Published : Feb 07, 2009 00:00 IST

A stalemate against a superbly organised and committed West Ham side actually extended Arsenal's unbeaten league run to 10 games, albeit with five of those deemed costly draws, writes Dominic Fifield.

Arsenal's recent history had been about pizzazz and, for a while, Premier League titles. These days the buzz word that crops up after spluttering performances and squandered points is "patience." There was frustration as their latest opportunity to gain ground on the Champions League positions was passed up, grumbling discontent surfacing on the final whistle. "We must not go overboard with the crisis we face," said Arsene Wenger. "Let's judge our team at the end of the season."

A sense of crises, of course, is always relative. This stalemate against a superbly organised and committed West Ham side actually extended Arsenal's unbeaten league run to 10 games, albeit with five of those deemed costly draws. The manager still hopes to recruit Andrei Arshavin from Zenit St. Petersburg to illuminate and invigorate this side. Yet, even when it comes to a potentially mouth-watering signing, Wenger's rhetoric is driven by realism. For the vocal minority left chuntering in disbelief that is not enough.

Wenger acknowledged the "little faction who are negative" among the club's support. The problem is that, while times have changed, the expectation for others remains the same. Comparisons with Wenger's most recent title winning side - the Invincibles propelled by Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira and Ashley Cole - are unhelpful. Those were galacticos, the glorious memory of whom rather hinders those currently wearing the club's shirt.

More relevant is a glance back at the Arsenal team which, by defeating West Ham 2-0 here on New Year's Day last year, maintained their two-point advantage at the top. That side boasted Cesc Fabregas, Mathieu Flamini and Tomas Rosicky from the start, with Aleksandr Hleb and Theo Walcott thrust on from the bench. The absence of those five players, to be replaced by younger, inexperienced talents, explains their current predicament.

At first glance the manager has broken with recent strategy in pursuing Arshavin, a 27-year-old with no experience of life at a club outside Russia. Wenger sees in the playmaker a talent he can mould to flourish within his set-up. Certainly a fully fit and acclimatised Arshavin might have prised the visitors open here but, even if a deal is completed today, it will take time for the newcomer to feel at home.

"There's always a danger that people want a wonder man, but I don't believe in that," said Wenger. "I accept that the expectation level on him would be very high - if he joins us. But we don't need an instant saviour."

Robin van persie, having either scored or set up every goal Arsenal mustered in January, was rested until after the hour-mark here. West Ham were relieved in his absence, with James Collins and Matthew Upson outstanding. Emmanuel Adebayor missed the game's two more presentable opportunities but the visitors merited their point. Gianfranco Zola departed heartened with his side unbeaten in eight away games. Arsenal take less satisfaction from their own undefeated run.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009

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