There was a sense of déjà vu about Arsenal’s defeat by Tottenham at the weekend.
Not in the sense of losing to Spurs as that hasn’t happened too often under Arsene Wenger. But in the sense that it is reminiscent of the situation 12 months ago.
It wasn’t the way Wenger would have wanted to mark his 700th Premier League game as Arsenal manager.
Losing 2-1 at White Hart Lane, especially after being in front at half-time, has again led to fears that Arsenal are in danger of missing out on qualification for next season’s Champions League.
That finishing in the top four is the target when we’re only just into February is clearly a disappointment after at least being involved in the title race for the opening months of last season. A 14-point gap to Chelsea isn’t going to be bridged in the next three months is it?
And it is understandable why there is annoyance, even anger, when making the Champions League again is what will be classed as a successful season.
The parallels with this time of year last season are drawn with Arsenal losing 5-1 at Liverpool the week before the FA Cup fifth round, which was a similarly demoralising and depressing defeat as Saturday’s was at Spurs.
But Arsenal recovered from that setback to subsequently knock Liverpool out of the FA Cup before going on to beat Hull City in the final.
Wenger also ensured Arsenal qualified for the Champions League for the 17th consecutive year.
An FA Cup fifth round tie at home to Middlesbrough offers a great opportunity to reach the quarter-finals and Arsenal could easily end the week back inside the top four.
So, come the end of May, there could be a repeat of the 2013/14 season, with Arsenal finishing in fourth place and winners of the FA Cup.
But, it is this perpetual feeling of Groundhog Day which is the source of such discontent when it comes to talk about Wenger and Arsenal’s future, and what is the ultimate ambition.
Wenger never wavers in his belief that Arsenal will finish in the top four. Meanwhile, the odds have Arsenal as 4/9 to finish in the Premier League’s top four.
Yet the fans demand more than that. There is a desire, a desperation even, to see a sustained assault on the title, which hasn’t been won since 2004. That only three clubs have won the league since then, and those are the three with the biggest resources, is of little consequence.
It always seems a case of one step forward, and then one step back, over and over again. The promise and potential is there, the footballing talent is unquestionable, but the character and bull-by-the-horns leadership of past greats like Adams and Vieira always seems to be out of reach.
Sure, the game has moved on since Adams and Vieira were leading Arsenal’s charge for honours. But there is always the need for players of that ilk.
It is hard to see Arsenal’s seemingly pre-determined seasonal destiny changing until that issue is addressed.
Still, would finishing fourth at the expense of Spurs make up for failing to challenge for the title?