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 By Simon Curtis

After two decades of twists and turns, Man City turn the tables on Arsenal

In the 1995-96 season Arsenal, in finishing fifth, experienced the ignominy of falling out of the top four.

It didn't happen again until last season.

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This week's sparsely populated Emirates to see an unwaveringly tedious 0-0 draw between the home side and Red Star Belgrade must have brought it home to Arsenal supporters just where their side reside in the football hierarchy at the moment.

Watching Manchester City stick four past Napoli on their own pitch and having to play City this weekend will further sharpen Arsene Wenger's focus on his club's newly "demoted" status.

Of course, embarrassment and discomfort are relative terms. In that same 1995-96 season City were relegated, beginning a trek that would leave them in the second tier for two seasons before escaping again, to drop further down to the old third division. It would take successive promotions, followed by further relegation and promotion, before City and Arsenal were reunited properly at the end of the century.

Arsenal then embarked on a run of success that would bring titles and cups aplenty, while City descended through the leagues to begin an odyssey of pain and embarrassment.

As the tides turn and football ushers in new trends and fads, the top reaches of the Premier League still features an Arsenal side that has become accustomed to its lofty position. But these are tough times (relatively speaking) for a set of fans, who have been spoiled for 20 years.

City, after all of those bleak years in the wilderness, have not only rejoined the top flight, but now lead it with a swagger not seen since the great Arsenal side of 2003-04. They now face Arsenal -- an opponent that did not allow a City win in London between 1976 and 2011 -- on equal terms, knowing that their own unbeaten run now stretches beyond the start of this season, back to the FA Cup semifinal defeat in April ... to Arsenal.

This season, only Everton in the Premier League and Wolves in the League Cup have prevented City victories. In keeping City scoreless over 120 minutes of cup football, second-tier Wolves have fared the best of all so far in attempting to escape from City's clutches intact. And even they were eventually dispatched in a penalty shootout.

Pep Guardiola's Manchester City have not been beaten since losing to Arsenal in the FA Cup last season.

Arsenal, with their inability to defend properly and their penchant for 10 passes where six might suffice, are arguably as good a match as anyone to fight City at their own game. They will not sit back but instead will attempt their own version of expansive, fluid football.

It has worked a treat in the past.

Wenger's Invincibles side of 2003-04, which has been causing so much comparison with City in recent days, came to Maine Road a year earlier and put on a show that will never be forgotten among City supporters. Under a banner headline that read "The House of Horrors," the Manchester Evening News reported that Kevin Keegan's "baffled Blues had been torn to shreds." It was indeed a chastening experience with half time arriving only after goals from Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires, Thierry Henry and Sol Campbell gave the visitors a 4-0 lead.

In fact they had taken their collective feet off the accelerator far earlier, as the fourth goal went in after 19th minutes.

To watch Arsenal and City that day was to witness two teams playing different sports. It is this feeling that is beginning to prevail among City fans this season. In patches already, some fans are openly admitting to seeing the best football of their lives. Certainly the opening half an hour at home to Napoli in the Champions League, spells in the 5-0 demolition of Liverpool, the powerful win at Stamford Bridge and the construction of unbelievable, multiple-pass goals against Stoke and West Brom have illuminated a season of triumphs.

Fresh from their latest escapade -- with a wonderfully vigorous 4-2 win, they became the first English side to come home from the San Paolo in Naples with a victory.

Football's great cycles continue to fascinate and thanks to more than two decades of unbroken Champions League football, Arsenal were at the money trough just as it began to overflow with riches. For City it has taken time, patience and significant investment to draw level, but draw level they have and are now proceeding to edge in front.

While Arsenal might be looking at the gloomy prospects of a fifth-place finish to match that of 1995-96, City are aiming far higher. With their sights set firmly on the Premier League title, will the tables be turned on that ignominious home defeat in 2003 or will Arsenal's instinct for self-preservation bring its reward? Whichever way it goes, the Etihad is surely set for yet another glorious feast of football.

Simon is one of ESPN FC's Manchester City bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @bifana_bifana.

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