Arsenal's misses in action cause crisis of faith

Arsenal 0 Fulham 0
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The Independent Football

Arsene Wenger has been critical of Arsenal fans for lacking patience in his young team this season. Well, if it has been wearing thin then yesterday's fourth successive goalless draw in the Premier League just about wore it out.

Not since the days of George Graham in 1994 has the club endured such a barren spell and the now familiar Emirates boos had a bit more edge at the end. The fear today will be seeing Aston Villa move eight points clear in fourth place, if they beat Stoke City at home. Everton are just two points behind.

A bitterly disappointed Wenger acknowledged afterwards they had been "desperate for three points" and that this latest setback was "a big blow" in terms of their Champions League hopes. He was also gracious about Fulham's efforts, in contrast with last weeks rebuke of Sunderland's apparently negative approach.

"Fulham came to play so credit goes to them," said Wenger. "They were the better side in the first 20 minutes. After that we lacked a bit of sharpness to take our chances and our passing was not good enough to give them problems."

When they did, they found goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer and defender Brede Hangeland in inspired form. Schwarzer did brilliantly to keep out a Robin Van Persie header from close range after 10 minutes when Andrey Arshavin floated in a cross from the right and Schwarzer denied the Dutch striker again when he parried a powerful shot 10 minutes from half-time.

Yet Fulham, confident in possession and inventive going forward, also had their share of chances. Andrew Johnson and Simon Davies each fired wide of Manuel Almunia's goal before Johnson showed a neat piece of skill to spin around Kolo Toure but again he was narrowly off target with his left-foot shot.

"The quality of our play was very good," said Hodgson, who has quietly transformed his team from neurotic relegation contenders into a side who look equipped to stay in the top half of the table, despite not having won away. "But we could have made more of those chances. Our shooting was not at its best and they tested our keeper more than we did Almunia."

Wenger will hope that his record signing Arshavin can help restore the sense of anticipation and excitement that used to settle on Arsenal fans. He had his moments yesterday, particularly after he was moved from the right into more central position, but the explosion Hodgson said he feared from these opponents never materialised. The Gunners, still missing key players, remain half-cocked.

One bonus was that Toure and William Gallas were able to make the restart on time after that tardy episode in the Champions League. They were kept busy, too, despite Arsenal now dominating possession, as Davies and Johnson always ready to pounce during a Fulham counter-attack.

Wenger spoke of anxiety creeping into his team's play and that was evident as

Van Persie got in the way of a volley by Arshavin, who shook his head in frustration. Schwarzer saved another Arshavin effort from substitute Nicklas Bendtner's cross, Van Persie hit a post and Schwarzer also kept out Abou Diaby's deflected header.

No faulting the effort, yet no hiding place from the boo-boys.