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Arsenal league challenge over already as focus turns to Cup competitions

At the beginning of the season, every club will have its own expectations. For some it will be to avoid relegation; for others it will to be make progress from the previous year, perhaps crack the top 10 or even the European places.

For Arsenal, the expectation is the title. Not necessarily to win it, although that should clearly be the ambition, but to challenge for it. It's something the club's chief executive, Ivan Gazidis, stated after Arsene Wenger signed a two year contract extension in May.

"The next level is to get us from where we are, to competing deep into the season for the Premier League," he told the club's official website.

"There's a lot of things happening under the surface that are not public. The new facilities we're building, the new improvements we're making all around our support staff, as well as on the field. All of this is driven towards the ambition of winning the Premier League."

And here we are 11 games into the season and Arsenal have no realistic hope of doing that. Accepting the fact Manchester City have started the season brilliantly, even with all the games there are left there's no chance of the Gunners reeling in that 12 point gap and a goal difference which is already +27 better than theirs.

So, more realistic expectations have to be set. There's probably enough quality in the squad to finish in the top four, if Wenger can keep them motivated and focused, but that's not something that should be taken for granted.

His side have lost four times away from home already this season, a record which speaks to something being fundamentally wrong, and having fallen out of title contention last season the players -- no longer convinced by what they were being asked to do -- embarked on a dreadful run of form which saw them finish outside the top four for the first time in 20 years.

Arsene Wenger's 14-year wait for a Premier League title is set to continue.

That didn't happen until late January though, and now Wenger has to preach his message to players who know they're working for a man who looks further than ever from recapturing the glory days when his teams always competed for the league. It will be 14 years without a title and the end of this season, and it's ever more apparent the Frenchman is not going to add to his collection of Premier League medals.

As such, the team will likely lurch from the sublime to the ridiculous in the league. Some might say it's the players' job to be professional and do their best, but when you know you have no chance of winning a competition, it is hard to maintain that competitive edge week in, week out.

They'll lose to big teams away from home, like they have against Liverpool and City, and still drop points to teams they should beat like Stoke and Watford. The home form against the sides outside the top six will enable them to keep chugging along, and there'll be a game where they play outstandingly and everyone will say "That's the blueprint!", but they won't be able to repeat it.

Where there may well be more joy is in the cup competitions. The FA Cup wins have been very enjoyable for fans, because trophies mean something, but it's no coincidence they've succeeded in a tournament in which they've been fully focused because they understand it's winnable. They beat big teams on the way to each of the three finals, and the 2017 showdown with Chelsea was a superb victory against the champions who were out to do the double.

The Europa League is likely to provide another opportunity, and it's one that Arsenal should not take lightly. They haven't won a European trophy since 1994, and as the tournament progresses and the quality of the opposition increases, Wenger's team selections should reflect that.

If they prioritise the Premier League over competition in which they have a chance of winning, then there would be something really wrong with the mindset of the club.

But that's where it is for Arsenal this season. Cup success is achievable, and Premier League success is not as early as the start of November. It begs a bigger conversation, of course, about how serious they are about the latter, but this campaign as a whole might be more enjoyable if people had a realistic outlook on what's possible for this team and manager.

Andrew Mangan is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @arseblog.


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