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Faith in Wenger dwindles further after Arsenal's no-show vs. Tottenham

Arsenal's top four hopes look slimmer than ever after defeat to Tottenham in the North London derby.

North London derbies are usually tight affairs. Over the years there have been some emphatic scorelines -- usually in Arsenal's favour -- but the history books will show that the Wembley showdown on Saturday was decided by a single goal.

Harry Kane's header won three points for Tottenham, but the scoreline didn't really reflect the game, and the second half in particular. Were it not for a string of outstanding saves by Petr Cech and some real profligacy in front of goal by the home side, the margin of victory could have been even greater.

And yet, despite Arsenal's serious defensive deficiencies, Spurs' wastefulness meant Arsene Wenger's men could have salvaged something from the game in injury time. Twice Alexandre Lacazette had the chance to equalise, twice he spurned the opportunity, and the second chance in particular -- when he was played in behind by Alex Iwobi -- is a miss which looked like it would haunt him.

The French international has had a difficult time of late, scoring just once in his last 13 games, and his confidence is unquestionably low. What better way to restore some of that by grabbing a goal which would have meant so much given the occasion? Sadly, he was found wanting on both occasions and on such fine margins games are won, drawn or lost.

Whether Arsenal deserved anything from the game is irrelevant. There's no such thing as justice when it comes to top-level sport, and the Gunners had a glorious opportunity to make the old enemy regret missing so many chances. As the ball trickled wide of the far post, and Lacazette clutched his head in horror, you could almost see what was left of his confidence evaporate from him.

It's a worry for Wenger, because with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang cup tied for the Europa League, Lacazette has a big role to play in the competition that holds Arsenal's last chance of real success. Yes, they play in the Carabao Cup final in two weeks' time, but without downplaying the significance of that competition, a European trophy and the chance to qualify for the Champions League is far more important for the future of the club.

Arsene Wenger during Arsenal's North London derby defeat to Tottenham.
Arsenal's away day blues struck again as Tottenham won the North London derby.

It's very difficult to delve too deep into individual assessments of players when the team is unable to function on any consistent level. This Arsenal side is capable of playing some excellent football on their day, but equally the carelessness and lack of defensive awareness that has caused so many dropped points always seems to be close to the surface.

It's not to say players aren't without accountability, but to focus on them as the root cause misses the point. There is a fundamental flaw to the Gunners this season, and the problem is not new: it's the away form. Wenger has tinkered with tactics, formations, personnel as well as adding to and subtracting from his squad, like a scientist looking for the perfect formula, but nothing has worked.

This season they have just 13 points from a possible 42 on the road, and going back to last season, they've won just seven of their last 26 away from the Emirates. Why there is such a disparity between their home form -- only the two Manchester clubs have better records this season -- and away is hard to understand, but whatever the underlying cause is, the one thing that can be stated with some certainty is that the Arsenal manager has yet to find anything close to a solution for it.

By the time they play again in the Premier League on March 1 -- the Carabao Cup final and lack of involvement in the FA Cup next weekend sees them go almost three weeks without a league game -- Arsenal could be 11 points off the Champions League places with just 11 games left to play.

It would require something verging on miraculous for them to finish in the top four, and the worry will be if Wenger can keep his team motivated for games they know will have little difference on the overall outcome of their season.

The focus will almost certainly be on the Europa League, knowing that a win provides both a trophy and Champions League football, but it's going to be a delicate balancing act for a manager in whom there is ever-diminishing faith. Arsenal's recent record in cup competitions augurs well, but the Premier League underachievement remains a dark cloud that hangs over North London at the moment.

Andrew Mangan is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @arseblog.


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