There are plenty of reasons why Arsenal fans should keep the faith

It could go either way, an optimist could pick out some positives

Arsenal, Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud, FA Cup, Burnley

Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez, centre, celebrates scoring a goal during the English FA Cup, fourth round soccer match between Arsenal and Burnley at Emirates stadium in London, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

If you needed an advertisement for why Arsenal will fall short in the title race, it came at St Mary's on St Stephen's Day.

Watching that 4-0 defeat to Southampton was an education into the art of ineptitude as the Saints ran halos around a beleaguered Gooners side.

The two sides meet again in a reverse of the Stephen's Day fixtures but it's not all doom and gloom for Arsenal. They might not be top at present but there are plenty of reasons for optimism regarding their chances of beating Manchester City, Tottenham and Leicester City in the title sprint to May.

Big players are back

As Pat Nevin pointed out on Off The Ball after the defeat to Chelsea, Arsenal's recent form shows small signs of a "blip".

But one has to remember that for the vast majority of the Christmas and January period, Arsene Wenger has had to plan without some very crucial players.

An Arsenal injury crisis is an annual occurrence but losing Alexis Sanchez, Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla to lengthy injuries is hard to cope with for any team. That's not counting the even longer-term injury victims like Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck, who are due to return in the coming weeks.

The good news is Sanchez and Coquelin are already back in action and the Chilean is arguably their best outfield player - unless Mesut Ozil tickles your fancy.

Sanchez already has 10 goals in 22 games in all competitions in a season derailed by the hamstring injury sustained at Norwich in the winter, and that includes a goal on his first start of 2016 against Burnley in the weekend's FA Cup action.

Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have mostly occupied the wide spaces in his absence, but there's nothing like a truly world class player to play off Olivier Giroud and link up with Ozil.

And Mohamed Elneny's arrival from Basel adds more depth to the deepest portion of midfield.

Francis Coquelin sees balance and ferocity return (Picture by: John Walton / EMPICS Sport)

Balance returns to midfield

Sanchez has the star power but Coquelin brings the grit in the centre of the park.

More importantly though, he brings a level of discipline and defensive obsession.

Mathieu Flamini may have performed okay as the less attack-minded midfielder in his absence, but he does have a habit of trying to be more box-to-box, which can be a risk when he is sitting alongside a player like Aaron Ramsey whose role that is.

Coquelin's passing has been more accurate (92% to Flamini's 87%) and he has made almost twice as more tackles per game than his fellow Frenchman this season. Plus he has managed more interceptions than any other Arsenal midfielder in 2015-16.

His rise in the tail end of last season as part of an unexpectedly successful pairing with Santi Cazorla was a key part in Arsenal's great finish to 2014-15, and while he now has to build a relationship with Ramsey, the signs are good.

Big games have mostly gone well

There was a time when Arsenal flattered to deceive against head-to-head rivals, but this season, they have already beaten Leicester away as well as Manchester City and Manchester United home.

A last minute Liverpool goal at Anfield cost them all three points in January, while Tottenham held them to a draw in their first North London derby, but aside from the two defeats at their big bogey team Chelsea, Arsenal have tended to fair well in the bigger games of late.

The second half of the season, sees them visit City, who they beat away in 2014-15, in their penultimate match and a trip to an in-form Tottenham in early March.

If Arsenal can replicate their wilier approach as witnessed at the Etihad last season, then they are more than capable of getting the results they need.

Arsene Wenger (Picture by: Adam Davy / PA Archive/PA Images)

Exiting Europe early

On their day, Arsenal can beat Barcelona. But as Dirty Harry Callaghan says ... "are you feeling lucky, punk?"

Truthfully, the Gunners will lose to the Spanish side in their upcoming Champions League knockout tie, whereas title rivals Manchester City could well reach the quarter-finals for the first time as they are likely to overcome Dynamo Kyiv.

Tottenham also face Europa League knockout commitments soon against Fiorentina, leaving only Leicester with a single purpose should Spurs beat the Italians over two legs.

Given City's lack of experience at the very highest level of European competition, the Champions League could cause them to take their eye off the ball in a league campaign where they have already flattered to deceive. Plus, they also have a Capital One Cup final against Liverpool to think about.

If Arsenal exit early, it means they can focus (the FA Cup notwithstanding) on the single goal of delivering Arsene Wenger's first league title since the 2004 Invincibles. And who'd begrudge the Frenchman that after the dedication he's showed in Arsenal's fallow period?