Are Arsenal no longer ‘Arsenal’?

Lose horribly in the Champions League, crack on with league form. Beat Bayern Munich in the Champions League, then get thrashed by lower league opposition in the League Cup. Arsenal’s season has had a distinctly ‘Arsenal’ feel to it at times this season.

But the last few weeks have started to see Arsenal look less and less like Arsenal and more like a team who can be genuine title contenders this season.

Then they go and draw Barcelona in the Champions League. So maybe they’re going to slide right back into that Arsenal-shaped groove that they’ve carved out for themselves over the past decade or so.

But for the moment, there are signs of Arsenal’s revival as a real title contender. There are signs of Arsenal becoming less Arsenal.

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It’s not uncommon for Arsenal to have good spells even in seasons where they ultimately end up in fourth spot and have a summer licking the wounds of another disappointment. But over the last few games, they’ve gone on another good run.

The only difference this season, is that these are games that really mattered.

They had to beat Dinamo Zagreb, and of course, they did.

Then they had to beat Olympiakos by two goals, which is something you’d possibly expect them to be able to do. But with the pressure on, it was certainly a good result.

But on top of those games, Arsenal also needed to win Premier League games. And those are the games that Arsenal would have struggled in over the past few seasons. The problem with Arsenal was every time they took a step forwards, they took one backwards too. Arsenal may have beaten Olympiakos, but then you wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d succumbed to Aston Villa last weekend.

It’s the mix of big games and smaller games that Arsenal never got right before. It’s a mental strength thing. Beating Olympiakos was a big deal, but then hosting a team who are cut hopelessly adrift at the bottom of the Premier League table could have been their undoing.

So going into their match this weekend against Manchester City leaves Arsenal in an odd position once again. They did well to beat Olympiakos in a pressure situation, and with quite a few injuries to boot. Then they also deserve praise for how they beat Aston Villa at the weekend, even if Villa aren’t very good.

Arsenal risked a ‘morning after the night before’ headache last weekend. Had they lost against Villa, it would have been put down to fatigue, and the fact that getting up for a much less meaningful game only days after a huge Champions League victory just isn’t easy.

But the next test is different. Staying at that level of mental and physical alertness to face title-rivals Manchester City is hard, and harder still when you have injuries and a depleted squad.

Arsenal have shown themselves to be less Arsenal than they were before, but they’re not fully transformed yet.

It’s been a good season so far, but victory over Manchester City could make look even better. If they can get a run going into February / March, then that Barcelona fixture may not hold the fear it could do for Arsenal, but even a defeat there will need to be taken in the stride, and put down to a defeat against a very good side.

Arsenal’s goal this season should be the Premier League. Being knocked out by a superior Champions League side in the last 16 is par for the course, but with no Premier League team looking better than any of the title contenders, then winning the league is possible for Arsenal this season.

The ominous thing for the rest of the league is that this Arsenal side no longer looks like an ‘Arsenal’ side.