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Mesut Ozil, fresh from his £42.5m transfer from Real Madrid, headlined, gracing the occasion with a sublime goal, an impudent volley stroked home with the inside of his boot from 18 yards. Arsenal won 2-0, beating the team that were leading Serie A to move top of their group ahead of Europe's second-best team, Jurgen Klopp's Borussia Dortmund.

Days earlier, they'd cemented their own position at the Premier League summit, a 2-1 victory at Swansea City secured by goals from Aaron Ramsey and the thrilling young German prospect Serge Gnabry. This flurry of names with which Arsenal were acquainted as recently as 2013 informs a grim analysis of what must now count as their new normal. Those European opponents still play in the Champions League, so too Gnabry (Bayern Munich) and Ramsey (Juventus), whilst Ozil, tethered however reluctantly to the club, hardly plays at all.

Arsenal in turn play Standard Liege on Thursday, a third successive annual trawl through the backwoods of the Europa League. These, sadly, are the fruits of too many non-performances like the 1-1 draw against Manchester United on Monday, another miserable reminder for Gunners fans of what the club was but isn't any longer. Nights like Old Trafford yield occasions like Standard Liege at home on a Thursday night, the atmosphere and noise of Napoli six years ago replaced by the lonely silence of a half-full stadium and half-interested support.

Sokratis has been singled out as a weak link in Arsenal's defence this season (Getty Images)

Arsenal are fourth after Monday's stalest of stalemates, but that's more a mark of the cramped confinement of the middle part of the Premier League than it is a sign of their preparedness for making that spot their own at the end of the season. Their 3-1 defeat at Liverpool in August was as one-sided as any of the times they've conceded five at Anfield in recent years, whilst the 2-2 draw at Watford was a capitulation in every sense.

Even the fightback against Tottenham in September was only provoked into life by the still unfamiliar sensation of being outplayed on their own pitch by Spurs. At 0-0 they looked as far from making a return to the title-challenging pack as ever.

The club's new headliner Nicolas Pepe, who cost nearly twice the fee Arsene Wenger paid out for Ozil, has made barely half the impact the German had in those heady first few weeks in North London in 2013.

This was supposed to have been the transfer window when Unai Emery broke through in terms of the calibre of signings the club pursues in the transfer market, but so far the script is much the same – fleet-footed forwards leaving only ephemeral marks all over opponents whilst entropy and indecision ruin the team's performances from the midfield backwards.

Arsenal came to life after going 2-0 down against Tottenham in September (Getty Images)

Arsenal have shown themselves to be far too good for all but the best one or two teams in this competition, leaving them in the draining position of spending all season trekking all over Europe with absolutely nothing to show – neither the trophy nor back-door Champions League qualification – as consolation at the end.

A couple of names in the Liege side could trouble Arsenal. Maxime Lestienne is a dangerous player on his day, whilst the full-back Mergim Vojvoda demonstrated his flair as a rampaging operator up and down the wing during Kosovo's defeat to England at St. Mary's last month.

But this will likely be more of the same from Arsenal – an uncomplicated evening in a needlessly complex competition that 40,000 supporters inside the Emirates would rather their club weren't involved in. Mediocrity breeds mediocrity.