THE BLOG
25/02/2016 12:33 GMT | Updated 25/02/2017 05:12 GMT

Are Arsenal Getting Ready to Throw Away Their Best Title Shot in Years?

The Premier League returns this weekend after a break for the FA Cup, leaving the top of the table packed about as tightly as it has been at any point in the season. The phony war is over, and it's crunch time.

The top three in particular are fascinating. As somebody with no dog in the fight, the exciting, irresistible young guns at Spurs are immensely appealing - while the incredible story of Leicester City, although flawed, is impossible to ignore.

Oddly though, Arsenal feel almost as much like underdogs as their title rivals at this point. At the start of the season, they were told that they would fall short - that they didn't have 'it'. Six months later, 'it' is still in doubt. In a season of upheaval, where champions became relegation candidates and vice-versa, Arsenal have remained Arsenal.

Years ago, back in my own cycling days, there was one particular rider on the local scene who was fearsomely talented. While the rest of us puffed and panted our way around the countryside, he would pedal serenely alongside as if he were out for a gentle training ride rather than entering the dying miles of a long afternoon's racing.

Sometimes it seemed as through he had an extra set of lungs hidden inside his jersey. He was so good, so strong, so effortlessly brilliant that he was near impossible to hate. At the end of almost every single race, he would climb onto the podium...and collect a silver or bronze medal as he stared up at the person who'd beaten him to the line.

Some weeks, the defeat would be recognised with grace. Others, frustration - and the occasional sulk. To a man, everybody knew that he should be cruising to wins at a canter, but there was just a lack of something. Whether it was a killer instinct thing, a mental block, or whether he'd fooled us all into thinking he had more in the tank than he really did, he just couldn't make it stick.

Since falling out of the sport some years ago, I'd barely thought about him - but something about Arsenal's recent performances brought his memory bubbling back over the last couple of weeks, the similarities striking.

Arsenal have never, ever gone into a season without being noted as title contenders since their last Premier League triumph in 2004. Every season, at some point, they've looked like absolute gold. Zipping passes around the midfield, devastating the best defences in the country with ease. And then falling apart whenever they get even within sniffing distance of actual, tangible success.

To continue the comparison, this season's title race is the equivalent of a grown man taking on a field of juniors - in Tottenham's case, almost literally. With the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City shoving sticks in their own spokes, Arsenal should be freewheeling downhill to the easiest title in the club's history.

But no. Instead, they sit third in the league - third! - while the young upstarts all around disrupt things and open up little traps for them to fall headfirst into. But even then, as good as Spurs and Leicester have been, they're not the ones beating Arsene Wenger and his band of merry men.

In three league games against Leicester and Spurs this season, Arsenal have put up a combined score of 8-4. They've allowed just one point to their rivals in those games. If Arsenal fail to win their first Premier League title in 12 years this season, they won't have been beaten by their rivals. They'll have been beaten by themselves.

Leicester, at least, have shown solidity this season. When they lose games, they bounce back almost immediately. As soon as Arsenal stutter, though, it looks as though they've handed their backbones into reception on the way out of the stadium in penance as they collapse into dire slumps.

No wins in November. One win in January, before a run of four games without tasting triumph. The team have been shooting themselves in the foot for so long that any slip-up really does look like it rips the heart out of the side. It just screams 'here we go again'.

How can anyone believe Arsenal can win the Premier League if they don't seem to truly believe it themselves?

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