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Arsenal's Premier League title-chase questions persist for Arsene Wenger

The question just won't go away. Does Arsene Wenger still have aspirations of winning the 2014-15 Premier League title?

Rather understandably, he evaded the question when asked.

"We have the aspiration to the win the next game, and that's quite good enough," Wenger responded during his news conference on Friday. "After that, win the next one."

The thing is, Arsenal have been rather good at that of late: having the capacity to win game after game after game. They are currently on a run of nine victories from 10, and have the best points return since the start of 2015 among all 20 teams in the Premier League.

That has raised the mood to buoyant levels around their London Colney base. While it has not yet brought hopes of a genuine title challenge this season, it has presented a slight element of regret in that regard too.

The big question is what Arsenal could have done had they started the season in this kind of form. The next question is why couldn't they start the season in this kind of form, and why did it change when it did? Does this mean they have finally moved on to the next level, or is it just a temporary trend?

One long-term theme is undeniable. For all the debate about Wenger over the past few years, he has imbued this team with an unerring stability in terms of claiming a Champions League place. They always ultimately hold firm, which is a source of confidence ahead of a potential top-four decider against Liverpool at the Emirates on Saturday.

It was in discussing the current improvement in fortunes that Wenger inadvertently raised an issue about why they aren't yet serious title challengers.

"It [consistent Champions League qualification] shows we have the consistency to deal with the problems," he said. "Every year it's different and every year you have a new problem."

This perfectly describes Arsenal over the past 10 years. Once one issue is sorted, another raises itself.

Look at the polar opposites between the past two campaigns, for one. Last season, they started superbly, only to buckle badly, with that collapse hastened by atrocious performances in big games. This season, they started badly, only to build superbly, with their recent surge strengthened by much better displays and results in big games.

If you could combine the best of both seasons, it might well make Arsenal the best side in the Premier League outright, and the champions. Except it's not that simplistic, and it's not realistic either.

So who are the "real" Arsenal?

It's probably somewhere in between, and you could say that a season of two such distinct halves represents a natural regression to the mean, though it's obviously a bit more complicated than that.

All at the club insist one complication has been sorted: Arsenal's injury crisis has ended. Similarly, many other players have recovered from a post-World Cup fatigue. That has had exponential benefits.

One word used around the club has been "automatisms." Because the main players have had so much time together -- not least the defence -- they now know each other better, and can play more fluid and integrated football.

"We are a different team now," Wenger said after the 3-0 win over West Ham United on March 14. "We suffered a lot from post-World Cup. What is for sure is [the players] understand each other much better than six, seven months ago, and that makes everyone much more dangerous."

It has helped players such as Olivier Giroud reach levels of form that they haven't really produced at the club before.

To a degree, much of this goes back to one of the big issues from the start of the season: whether the club really can avoid the traditional injury crisis. Wenger made a lot of noise about properly looking into the issue, but any progress will not be seen until next season.

If he has managed it, then consistently producing top form is possible. A forgiving run of fixtures has facilitated all of this, and the defeats to Tottenham Hotspur and Monaco did illustrate that some persistent issues remain. At the same time, Wenger has adjusted his tactics in big games in a way that appeared inconceivable only a few months ago. It's not quite enough yet to suggest a revolution, but it is encouraging.

There was a conspicuous combativeness to both wins away to the Manchester clubs -- 2-0 against City in January, 2-1 away to United in the FA Cup in March -- as well as a canny solidity to the way they set up. There was none of the gung-ho naivety of the league defeat at home to United, or the first leg against Monaco.

That is also why the next big game may be indicative of whether they can take the next big step. Because over the past few seasons, Arsenal have illustrated another striking trend, and one that has effectively maintained this overall sense of stagnation.

Every time they look like they're about to step up they suffer a setback, and every time they seem on the brink of an outright crisis they bounce back with a win. It has been a curious self-correcting mechanism, so it will be telling if they can break out of it. A win would not just be another big-game victory in 2015, a record of three wins out of five in such games. It would effectively kill off Liverpool's Champions League challenge, cement Arsenal's own top-four place and also set up a proper surge on Man City in second place.

If they did finish above City, that would represent Arsenal's highest finish for exactly a decade. It also would perhaps reflect that they've finally moved on to that higher level, that this form might be closer to the real deal.

Anything less and those deeper, longer-term questions that don't concern the title will remain.