ARSENAL'S ATTEMPTS over the next few months to keep George Graham and Tottenham firmly in their place as number two in north London risk being undermined by a striking deficiency.
In the season in which they hoped to take Europe by storm, Arsenal have found their main strikers going at the opposition with something less than the force of Hurricane Georges.
At Wembley on Wednesday night it was left to Tony Adams and Martin Keown, those celebrated twin towers of defensive strength, to pop up at set-pieces and earn a 2-1 victory over Panathinaikos, propelling their team to the top of Group E in the Champions League.
Adams' left-footed volley was his second goal of the season, which makes him joint leading scorer with Marc Overmars, who was both marksman and the main threat in the previous group match, drawn 1-1 in Lens.
Nicolas Anelka, the worst culprit as chances were frittered away in France, has managed one goal while from Dennis Bergkamp, last season's footballer of the year, there has been a series of blanks.
"Nil-nil to the Arsenal" could have been the chant at half-time in most games so far, including the two Champions' League matches.
Apart from 3-0 romps over Manchester United - of all people - at Wembley and Highbury, Adams, Keown and their colleagues have never had a big enough lead at any stage to defend with comfort.
The manager, Arsene Wenger, aware that Lens and, last Saturday, Sheffield Wednesday had broken through for costly late goals, admitted to becoming agitated on Wednesday at the possibility of a repeat once the Brazilian substitute Mauro had suddenly halved Arsenal's advantage in the 88th minute.
Should the Greeks have manufactured an equaliser, Panathinaikos would have become Arsenal's main group rivals, leaving them with a tricky last game in Athens.
Wenger's willingness to release a player of Ian Wright's experience and goal-scoring ability in the summer is looking more surprising with every game. He is reluctant to spend millions on a proven striker for fear of stunting Anelka's development, but the young Frenchman will quickly grow short of confidence if goals do not come soon.
Even a new striker signed tomorrow would not be eligible until the quarter- finals of the Champions' League next year.
In the meantime, goals will be required for the home game against Dynamo Kiev later this month for, as Wenger has stressed, winning at home in this competition is paramount: in the 24 matches to date, there has been only one away victory.
Arsenal will continue to play at Wembley, claiming to have been "totally vindicated" by Wednesday's attendance of 73,455. The team and the crowd were up for it and up to it. But, alas, the London Underground and the North Circular Road, were not and a 25-minute delay to the game clearly irritated Uefa as well as Wenger. The governing body may yet impose a small penalty.Reuse content