Mathematically, Arsenal still have a decent chance of landing the Premier League. However, after Sunday's 3-2 defeat by Manchester United, there won’t be too many Gunners fans boasting of their title credentials.
On this agonising evidence, Arsene Wenger’s men look destined to fall short once again. Simply put, Arsenal just don't seem to have what it takes.
It’s utterly infuriating for the supporters. This season presented Arsenal with their best chance to win the league in years. The likes of United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea have all suffered severe problems that ought to have granted the Gunners a free run at the title. Instead, they find themselves trailing unfancied Leicester City and local rivals Tottenham Hotspur by five and three points, respectively.
Without wishing to downplay the achievements of those two teams, Arsenal have squandered a massive opportunity to seize control of the division. It's a huge failure of character.
Against one of the weakest United sides of the past two decades, Arsenal should have put up more of a fight. As it was, the 3-2 scoreline flattered the Gunners, who were outfought and outthought by Louis van Gaal’s team.
Speaking on Super Sunday (h/t Sky Sports), pundit Graeme Souness was as exasperated as any watching Arsenal fan:
You turn up here, you're playing a Manchester United side struggling with injuries, introducing young players, low on confidence and you're thinking it's tailor-made for a proper team to come here and do a number on an understrength Man Utd and they didn't.
They've got to play Tottenham, Barcelona—by March 16 they could be out of all competitions. This is an Arsenal team you were saying a month ago was a real team. ... Arsene Wenger must be tearing his hair out.
Although it was a particularly bad week—Arsenal effectively ensured their UEFA Champions League exit by suffering a 2-0 loss to Barcelona just days before the Old Trafford debacle—the Gunners’ slump in form is nothing particularly new. 2016 has been a bad year thus far. Since Christmas, Arsenal have played 14 games, winning just six. Of the last 21 available Premier League points, Wenger's men have taken just nine.
It’s not championship form. After the game, the Frenchman played down the significance of the result to the club's official site, saying: "Nobody knows. We dropped three important points today. We have to have a better level of fight than that and have to bounce back on Wednesday night and not feel sorry for ourselves. That is what it means. After, mathematically what (it) means, we will know at the end of the season."
Wenger must take a significant portion of the blame for this latest result. He made a couple of big selection decisions against United, dropping Per Mertesacker and Olivier Giroud in favour of Gabriel Paulista and Theo Walcott. Neither worked, with Gabriel lost in defence and Walcott anonymous up front.
Moreover, Wenger must accept he ought to be getting better performances from such a talented squad. Arsenal have more depth and quality than either Leicester or Tottenham, yet they are struggling to keep pace.
The simple fact is the Gunners are underperforming. They are not playing like a side who deserve the title. Even the most passionate Arsenal fan would struggle to make the case that they deserve the league more than the likes of Leicester.
There’s a long way to go in the season, and this turbulent campaign has taught us nothing can be taken for granted. However, Arsenal do not look like serious contenders. The consistency and conviction that are hallmarks of champions still evade them.
In 2015/16, Arsenal have had an incredible opportunity to claim the league as their own. Should they fail to do so, the responsibility will lie squarely with an underperforming manager.
It’s an uncomfortable thought for Arsenal fans, but if Wenger cannot win the league this year of all years, he may never win it again.
James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and is following the club from a London base throughout 2015/16. Follow him on Twitter here.
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