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Well, that didn't take long.

Barely ten days after his masterful substitutions lifted Arsenal to a 2-1 first-leg, round-of-16 Champions League victory over Barcelona, the boo birds are already rounding on Arsène Wenger following the Gunners' 2-1 Carling Cup final loss to Birmingham City last Sunday.

In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of professional sports, the naysayers are once again carping on about the team's six-year trophy drought, as though winning the Carling Cup of all things would have suddenly set the world to rights.

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After all, it was Wenger who said a number of years ago that winning the Carling Cup could hardly be considered a major achievement, and that if it's real trophies you want, you've got to be looking to the English Premier League title, Champions League, or, at the very least, the F.A. Cup to have something to shout about.

As any red-and-white-clad fan will tell you though, a club of Arsenal's stature and talent level should be winning things on a more regular basis than every six years, if that drought even comes to an end this season. While the North Londoners may lack the spending power of Manchester City or Chelsea, or the continental clout of Manchester United, Wenger has painstakingly assembled an attractive, attacking outfit that, as shown in the victories over Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester City this season, has the ability to play up to its enormous potential when it wants to.

The trouble is, the proud Frenchman is generally too stubborn to seriously acknowledge, let alone address, the team's deficiencies. He spoke of a possible need to add another centre-back to bolster his team's challenges on four fronts during January's transfer window - a commonly held view with Belgian stalwart Thomas Vermaelen still struggling the recover from an Achilles tendon injury he suffered back in August - but then chose to do nothing, despite being linked with veteran leaders such as Bolton Wanderers' Gary Cahill. His two summer centre-back signings, Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci, have shown flashes of talent at times, but as Koscielny showed in the build-up to Birmingham's late winner on Sunday, he's also maddeningly inconsistent and they are both reluctant to take charge of situations, and that can - and did - prove costly.

Arsenal's struggles with finding a reliable stopper between the posts have also turned into something of a comical farce, but after the blundering years of Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski Wenger does appear to have stumbled upon a solution in the shape of the raw but talented Wojciech Szczesny, the 20-year-old Poland international. While he was held partly to blame for the winning goal on the weekend, he should get stronger for the experience, and that will only stand him in good stead for years to come.

Of bigger concern for the Arsenal faithful is that the team has now lost its last three cup finals, including the 2006 Champions League showpiece against Barcelona, and that trend is starting to look like a bad stain on the club's reputation. Arsenal's last success, the 2005 F.A. Cup final against Manchester United, was the design of hard work rather than free-flowing football, with any thoughts of playing the Red Devils off the park shelved in favour of a defensive 4-5-1 formation following the injury-enforced absence of Thierry Henry. It certainly wasn't pretty, but with the trophy in the cabinet following a shootout success, Arsenal fans were not about to complain.

With continued participation in three other competitions this season, it's still far too early to judge Wenger and his team. Still, it would take a foolhardy fan to back the Gunners to cart off the remaining silverware and match Man U's achievements of 12 years ago. Can they? Yes. Will they? Unlikely. But having thrown away what looked a sure thing against Birmingham, Wenger will take anything he can get at this stage, needing any piece of silverware to prove to his own team - and to assist its efforts to retain talents such as Cesc Fabregas - as much as to the critics at large that his youthful squad is finally coming of age. With upcoming titanic tussles against Barcelona in the Champions League and United in the F.A. Cup, providing they can see off Leyton Orient on Wednesday, it will soon be seen if Wenger's squad is mature enough to give him his wish.

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