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Arsenal, Contenders: Haven't We Been Here Before?

08/10/2015 16:00 BST | Updated 08/10/2016 10:12 BST

If ever a week summed up Arsenal Football Club it was this; an embarrassing Champions League defeat​ at home to Olympiacos bookended by devastating 5-2 and 3-0 demolitions of Leicester City and Manchester United respectively.

Leicester were second at the time; United the Premier League leaders. All of a sudden Arsenal are title contenders once more.

This was not only the assessment of the London Evening Standard, but ESPN correspondent Gabriele Marcotti and several others. Their own midfielder, Franics Coquelin, agreed.

To be fair, it's true. Arsenal are only two points behind new leaders Manchester City, of course they're contenders. But such expectation is so often their downfall.

Ahead of Sunday's encounter, Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal described Arsenal as "technically and tactically" the best team in the league. It's hard to argue with his assessment; these are traits that his Gunners counterpart Arsene Wenger has spent 19 years trying to hone.

They were evident as Alexis Sanchez, supported by Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil, blew Van Gaal's team away inside 17 minutes at the Emirates Stadium, when few had predicted a pleasant afternoon.

Arsenal have always had displays like Sunday's in their locker. Rarely, though, have they found the consistency, or indeed the mentality, to back them up.

Liverpool were perhaps the last big team to be on the receiving end of such a pulverisation; losing 4-1 in April. Then, too, the Gunners' title credentials were high on the media agenda; no doubt to ensure a foregone conclusion appeared considerably more interesting.

It was their seventh straight Premier League victory. In fact, they'd won 10 of their last 11; a run interrupted by a 2-1 derby defeat to Spurs. Having been five places and 13 points behind leaders Chelsea prior to their run, the Liverpool result left them with only a place and seven points to make up.

From being written off completely at the turn of the year - when, such was the level of frustration amongst fans, Wenger was confronted by one while sat in the St. Mary's dugout - Arsenal were now the Blues' closest challengers.

In the end, Chelsea's initial 13-point lead was all but restored, as Arsenal finished the campaign in third place with 75 points to their cross-city rivals' 87. It was typical, really.

The only real surprise came a week after the Premier League season had ended, when Arsenal made light work of Aston Villa in the final of the FA Cup. In the previous year's final, Arsenal required extra-time to beat lowly league rivals Hull City, who'd taken a 2-0 lead at Wembley.

Such complacency also saw them finish fourth in the top flight, despite spending 128 days at the top and leading the title race as late on as February. It was further evidenced at the start of the current league campaign, when West Ham played an expectant Arsenal off the park on the opening weekend.

While their lethargic early season league form appears to have been addressed for now, the Champions League has proved perplexingly problematic. In a group where Bayern Munich should be the Gunners' only real concern, they've somehow managed to lose both their group stage matches with the Germans still to play, away first, then at home.

Dinamo Zagreb hadn't won a game at this stage of the competition for since the end of the last millennium until they played Arsenal, while Olympiakos had lost all 12 of their previous visits to England. On ability alone, the Gunners should have won both routinely.

Wenger's decision to rest key players for the latter fixture has earned him the brunt of the blame, but Alex Ferguson was doing the same thing most weeks at Manchester United and still got the job done.

For Ferguson's players, a winning mentality was already deeply ingrained: Anderson could do Scholes' job; Nani could do Ronaldo's; John O'Shea would occasionally deputise for Patrice Evra at left-back, as he did against Wolfsburg during the 2009-10 season; a 2-1 win for United.

The same cannot be expected of Wenger's players, and for that he does deserve some of the flack. After all, the money was there for him in the summer. He chose to sign only Petr Cech who, although a multiple Premier League and once Champions League winner with Chelsea, is only one player.

This is largely the same side which has fallen short two seasons in a row now, and in the few years before then didn't come close at all. Arsenal may be contenders now, they may still be in February. But come May 2016, when it matters the most, will Arsenal really be in a position to challenge?

History suggests not.

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