By Chris Harris
Seventy years since The Arsenal Stadium Mystery was filmed at Highbury, another riddle has enveloped this famous old football club.
Back in 1939, luminaries such as Cliff Bastin and Eddie Hapgood graced the silver screen as Detective Inspector Slade was called in to solve a fictional crime. Thanks in part to the Arsenal manager George Allison, they eventually got to the bottom of it.
Leaping back to the modern day, current boss Arsène Wenger has his own conundrum to unravel. The Frenchman is largely responsible for replacing Arsenal's old 'boring' tag with a 'scoring' one but, in the Premier League, the goals have suddenly dried up.
Arsenal have not delivered four consecutive 0-0 draws in the top flight since October 1993 when Liverpool, Manchester City, Oldham and Norwich kept George Graham's side at bay. But few eyebrows were raised back then - Arsenal were less expansive at the time and, with all due respect, it was Eddie McGoldrick, not Samir Nasri, on the wing.
Despite a lengthy injury list Wenger also has Robin van Persie and Andrey Arshavin at his disposal and he has certainly not sacrificed his attacking principles. So why are Arsenal drawing blanks? Wenger is at a loss to explain and so, it seems, are his players.
"The players are like you and me, it is a mystery," admitted Wenger.
"Sometimes they think ‘why don’t we score?’ because in some games we have three or four clear-cut chances. That is why they have the same questions we have. What you do not want to lose is your defensive stability just because we want to score so much we throw everything in an unstructured way. It is important to keep our game structured and not to listen to the alarming signals too much.
"We lack spontaneity in front of goal and of course that is a confidence issue. When you want it too much, the first thing you lose is spontaneity. When you would normally place the ball you hit it hard and it’s not when you hit it hard that it usually goes in.
"But I still believe it is important that we focus on playing well and we convince ourselves that goalscoring comes from the quality of our game so let's focus on the quality of our game.
"I believe that Fulham was more a 3-3 game than a 0-0 game because of the chances. On Sunday I watched the Carling Cup Final and it was a 0-0 game; Arsenal v Fulham was a 3-3 or a 2-2. I believe that when we get one goal they will start flowing again."
Wenger would be more alarmed if his team wasn't creating chances. That said, the Frenchman is desperate to see the opposition net billow just like old times and, if he could have hand-picked an opponent for tonight, it might well have been West Bromwich Albion. Not because the Baggies are rock-bottom or even because on-loan striker Jay Simpson is ineligible. The fact is their style of play could play into Arsenal's hands.
Albion have broken the mould among newly-promoted clubs by eschewing what their boss Tony Mowbray describes as a "scraping, spitting, fighting, muscular" approach to top-flight survival. Mowbray was an uncompromising centre back in his playing days but his managerial style is rather more idealistic. He insists that Albion will stick to their passing principles even if it means they are relegated in May. Predictably, that philosophy strikes a chord with Wenger.
"I think he is doing a great job," said the Frenchman. "There is a fine line between succeeding and not succeeding but in the longer term any manager with a positive philosophy will have success.
"I believe I would have the same philosophy if I was in charge of a lower club. If you want your players to improve you have to try and play. The players need to improve to feel like they have the chance to improve. That is why I am convinced it is the right attitude.
"It is harder [to stick by your principles in a relegation battle]. But it’s harder everywhere. The only thing that is the same everywhere is that it’s hard in every club – top or bottom, it’s always hard. But West Brom play well, they always look close to winning games.
"They have many good players. Maybe Jonathan Greening is their playmaker and he’s coming back just now and he has a big influence in their game. They also have Robert Koren – they have very good players if you look at their team."
Albion have their key man coming back but Arsenal fans will have to wait a little longer to see Theo Walcott, Eduardo or Emmanuel Adebayor, while Cesc Fabregas and Tomas Rosicky are still a few weeks shy of full fitness. William Gallas (ankle) will also sit out tonight's game so Johan Djourou steps in alongside Kolo Toure.
The Swiss centre back will do his best to extend Arsenal's run of clean sheets to seven games. But the real story could take place at the other end of the pitch. With Albion less adept at the "muck and nettles stuff", as Mowbray puts it, Arsenal should find enough space to create chances at the Hawthorns.
Then it's just a matter of taking those chances. If they do, Wenger's modern-day 'mystery' will finally be solved.
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