The arithmetic still clings on for dear life, but you could see it in Mikel Arteta’s face. This season, at least, it’s over for Arsenal.

What it can’t be is the end, full stop. But for the juggernaut that is Manchester City, they would already be Premier League champions, and even a close runner-up to arguably the best club side in the world is overachievement at this stage.

Arsenal were an unremarkable fifth last season, a disastrous start to that campaign which featured three abject defeats raising questions over Arteta’s position. To soar from that to genuine heartache at not being crowned league winners is a level and pace of turnaround that should not be diminished.

That is understandably difficult to do when the hurt is so raw, as was so vividly apparent with Arteta as he trudged down the Emirates tunnel on Sunday. That their fate was unfortunately sealed with a genuinely awful performance accelerated the narrative that this has been a bottle job.

So effervescent for months, Arsenal had floated over each coming hurdle with a dreamlike weightlessness, until it suddenly morphed into one of those where your legs downright refuse to co-operate, and there’s a giant, bloodthirsty Erling Haaland thundering his way towards you. Sunday’s defeat to a terrific Brighton and Hove Albion was the moment they finally woke up screaming.

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Where Arsenal had once carried themselves with the unmistakable look of champions, their dream was extinguished with all the hallmarks of a team completely out of energy and inspiration. Injuries have not helped, of course, but their demise cannot be pinned solely on the absence of William Saliba, given how comfortably they coped without Gabriel Jesus for several months.

Describing their fall from the Premier League summit exclusively with the b-word feels an inadequately blunt way to assess the situation, albeit some elements of it have that undeniable whiff of psychological implosion. Arsenal’s form since the season turned a sharp corner and the finishing line moved into view has not been good, far from it. Arteta’s team have won only two of their last seven matches, but it is the ‘how’ more than the ‘what’ that tells the story.

Surrendering two-goal leads in consecutive matches to Liverpool and West Ham, the latter also featuring a costly Bukayo Saka penalty miss, was ominous. A 3-3 draw with relegation-bound Southampton at home was disastrous and, in hindsight, it was fairly obvious when Saints turned in a performance of that calibre at that particular time that things were only heading one way. City then battering the Gunners 4-1 had the feel of an apex predator moving in for the kill when others had already inflicted mortal wounds.

It is hard to deny that the steely resolve required to see off a title challenger has not absent in North London when it was most desperately required. Arsenal, though, have not faced just any other opponent.

To have kept City at bay, they were required to be near-flawless in an already testing run-in. This is the standard Pep Guardiola has set, where anything less than 90 points will not be enough to finish top of the pile. In Haaland, he has a striker who has delivered in excess of 50 goals, ably supported by a breadth of options even the big hitters in this richest of league’s cannot compete with.

We could sit and debate what Arsenal must do to go one better next season, but perhaps the real question may be: is it even possible against this current City behemoth? Arteta can look at adding depth to a squad which suffered through lack of rotation, tightening up a defence which has conceded more goals than a Manchester United side hit for seven at Anfield and six at the Etihad, and ensuring the young players who have led this adventure are not too damaged by how it has ended.

What he really could do with, though, is his old pal Pep calling it a day. City’s squad is fearsome, of course, but the influence of Guardiola cannot be understated, and things will likely get a lot easier for everyone else the day he decides he’s had enough.

There is also the rather uncomfortable fact that City’s surge to yet another title transpires against the backdrop of over 100 (one hundred) financial fair play charges across a nine-year stretch from 2009 to 2018. City have strongly denied any wrongdoing, but these allegations cover almost the entire period during which their Abu-Dhabi-funded dynasty was built and solidified. What chance do other clubs have if it emerges the whole thing was not just fuelled by obscene wealth, but obscene wealth applied in contravention of the rules?

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However, any such ruling is likely to take years, not months, and Arsenal’s present reality is they must find a way of sizing up to City’s might next season. Depth will be so crucial, not least given an imminent return to the Champions League demands greater resources be applied than a half-hearted tilt at the Europa League.

They will not be able to match City’s spending, but are in a strong position to rake in not-inconsiderable fees for at least a few of Kieran Tierney, Emile Smith-Rowe, Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah, Granit Xhaka and others. More than one of those listed made valuable contributions this term, but Arteta will know that improving further requires a certain ruthlessness.

It appears Xhaka, for a start, is already on the brink of moving on. The midfielder has made 35 Premier League appearances in a campaign that will go down as his best at the club, but at 30 and with only a year left on his contract, is a prime example of where sentimentality is Arsenal’s enemy this summer.

With their sights reportedly set on the likes of Declan Rice and Moises Caicedo, Xhaka is the kind of player they will benefit from parting with. Whether anything is enough to topple City remains to be seen, but Arsenal are well-placed to maintain, or extend, an already comfortable distance between themselves and the rest.

Close to home, Chelsea have recruited Mauricio Pochettino to lead them, but their new ownership has been a mess so far, while managerless Tottenham also face another close season rebuild. Manchester United have made strides under Erik ten Hag, but elevating themselves further requires a transfer window of a quality they have consistently proven themselves incapable of producing – not to mention there continued uncertainty surrounding an ongoing takeover. Liverpool are clearly in need of a refresh but remain eminently dangerous with Jurgen Klopp at the helm.

And then there’s Newcastle United, gatecrashing their way into the established ‘big six’ - albeit Saudi-Arabian ownership will do that for you. Under assistant manager Jason Tindall and manager Eddie Howe, they have made serious strides in a short space of time. Just how much further they can push on over the coming months will, you feel, be a significant indicator of where the balance of Premier League power is heading.

Once the hurt of these past few weeks dissipates, it’s over to Arteta and the Arsenal board to ensure they remain major players.