In the summer Lauren joined Arsenal his presence in the Cameroon Olympic team was monumental. When the unfancied Africans had two men sent off against Spain in a dramatic final, the team rallied to force a penalty shootout. The crucial spot kick was eventually scored by Lauren with a coolness that belied the heat of the Australian sun and deep tension of the occasion.

Such calm is what is needed now amongst Arsenal's penalty takers. It seems that over recent seasons the supposedly simple job of converting from twelve yards has become a problem which has threatened to prove very costly for the club. On Saturday it was Patrick Vieira's turn to be added to a growing list of spot kick failures. An unlikely candidate for the role, considering his failure against Galatasaray in the UEFA cup final of 2000, Vieira let the chance to net a winning goal, on the ground he had been sent off a season earlier, pass with an effort that befitted Twickenham ahead of Sunderland's Stadium of Light.

Unfortunately for manager Arsène Wenger this has been a consistent problem which has ultimately hampered their ambitions for silverware. The most memorable example is perhaps Dennis Bergkamp's miss against Peter Schmeichel in the 1999 FA Cup semi-final which could have denied their rivals a historic treble. The curse then continued with the team being knocked out of all cup competitions the following season on penalty shootouts to Leicester, Middlesbrough and Galatasaray. Even their title challenges have been undermined by this basic problem- last year Nelson Vivas missed at Charlton to allow Manchester United to gallop clear by Christmas.

Marc Overmars threatened to break the trend with a brief stint as the designated taker during his time at the club but his passing efforts lacked conviction. Since then Thierry Henry has steadied the ship with a decent run of successes from the spot, which this season have guided the club through the first phase of the Champions League.

On Saturday however, Henry was sidelined through squad rotation and could only watch his fellow Frenchman scoop the ball over the bar. Shaking his head he might have agreed that Vieira was a silly choice of taker. The miss begged the question as to where the strikers were hiding. Why can't players, whose sole responsibility is to beat the goalkeeper with any chance they can get, take penalties. Ultimately this says more about the Arsenal attack than anything else. Bergkamp, Kanu and Wiltord are clever players who use their trickery to score goals- but when it comes to putting the ball down and stroking it in from a simple chance, such as a penalty, they are uneasy and shy.

Henry's deputy against Sunderland should have been Lauren. The African has shown that in the most pressured situation- for a gold medal- he has the composure to score. With the rate Arsenal go through penalty takers he is likely to get his turn. However if he is low on the rota, we might yet see a host of other big name Gunners crumble on the spot.

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31 Oct 2001