Stoppage Time: It's once again time to panic at Arsenal
By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor
(Sports Network) - It seems as though we have been here plenty of times over the past couple of years with Arsenal.
The club goes through a stretch when goals and points are at a premium, and the league title drifts further and further from reach until it is written off for next season.
Every year that Arsenal goes without a trophy only increases the pressure, and each time Arsene Wenger's side goes through a barren spell it appears the storm clouds gather much quicker.
In past seasons, Wenger has always found a way to turn things around and guide his team to a top-four finish, thus qualifying for the Champions League and keeping the buzzards at a safe distance.
The fact that Wenger has been able to help Arsenal reach the Champions League in each of the past 15 seasons is quite an achievement.
But at this point in his storied career the best days seem to be a distant memory and the boss may be facing his biggest task yet.
Forget about Arsenal having a go at the league title this season, something the club hasn't won since the 2003-04 campaign.
Saturday's 2-1 loss at Manchester United already leaves the team with a nine- point deficit to make up, and it revealed more about how much work must still be done for the club to compete at the highest level.
Speculation about Arsenal finishing outside the top four is nothing new. In fact, it has become common in recent years.
But this season just feels different as it is becoming clear that hemorrhaging top talent year after year and replacing it with players who are a step below might finally be catching up with Wenger.
The exodus from the Emirates Stadium began with influential players like Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, while defender Gael Clichy also left for greener pastures, citing a lack of team success as a big reason for his departure.
However, the biggest blow came this summer when striker Robin van Persie turned down a contract extension with Arsenal in favor of a move to Manchester United.
Van Persie led the English Premier League with 30 goals last season, and although Arsenal received a $38 million fee for the Dutchman, it looks like money well spent for United.
Once again, Van Persie leads the league with eight goals in 10 appearances, while Arsenal's attack has hit a dry patch.
Even when the rest of the team wasn't in top form, Wenger always had an ace up his sleeve in Van Persie, who could get the club out of jail with one moment of individual brilliance to lift them to a win.
But this season, without Van Persie, Wenger has no such luxury.
Arsenal has scored more than one goal just three times in its first 10 league games, and the players who have the unenviable task of replacing Van Persie, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud, have combined for three goals.
Wenger did make one of the better buys of the summer in acquiring midfielder Santi Cazorla from Malaga. But without a consistent threat up top, Arsenal's attack has looked toothless for much of the early part of the season.
It's possible that if Cazorla continues to create in midfield that players like Podolski, Giroud and Gervinho will settle in and start to find the net on a more consistent basis.
Yet, it seems more likely that the slow decline in overall quality in the Arsenal side will finally catch up to them.
An inconsistent attack and a defense that can be good but is often prone to costly mistakes is not the recipe for making a title contender.
Wenger helped Arsenal become the only team to finish the season unbeaten in Premier League history when he pulled off the feat in 2003-04.
If Wenger can help Arsenal finish in the top four this time around, it will represent his most impressive accomplishment yet.
11/05 13:58:33 ET