As the season continues to drift towards its thoroughly anti-climactic conclusion, there are still a few things to play for.
With United being held by everyone’s favourite champions elect and City ‘doing an Arsenal’ at Southampton, the club is currently in the driving seat in the race for the Champion’s League.
Under the circumstances, the relative comfort of the gap between Man Utd and us (and West Ham) leaves us feeling somewhat relaxed about Champions League qualification.
There was some consternation in certain quarters about the potential impact of a Liverpool Europa League victory, but given that the rules have changed to mean that nations can now have up to five teams in the Champion’s League (as a result of European tournament success), we can relax.
The only way Arsenal can be eliminated from Champions League qualification is if we finish fourth AND both City and Liverpool win their respective European tournaments, AND City finish outside the top four. Given that this is only possible if we lose our two remaining fixtures and all other fixtures go against us, it’s not worth losing sleep over.
Sure, finishing fourth rather than third tends to lead to a playoff fixture, and would be best avoided, but the weighting of those has always been stacked in our favour.
However, quite apart from the desire to avoid a playoff and the subsequent delay in summer transfer dealings, there is another reason for the team to give their full focus on getting a result this weekend.
If we avoid losing at the Etihad, not only will this leave us just needing to avoid defeat at home against Villa to finish in the top three, but will also cement a good record against those around us in the table.
Six points taken from Leicester, unbeaten vs. Spurs and four-six points off City would be a positive return. Particularly since a good result would boost confidence for the start of next year.
There are also potential strategic considerations as well.
If we could beat City and put their top four credentials in doubt, it could potentially limit the impact of Guardiola’s arrival in the summer. We’ve all seen that signings are harder to make when it’s a season of Thursday nights ahead.
There is also the potential of springing a surprise on Spurs.
If they lose at Stamford Bridge, that will leave them needing to match our two remaining results to guarantee finishing above us. Spurs have been great this year, but they aren’t immune to pressure as we saw with our ten-man comeback at the Lane.
If this scenario were to come to pass, it would certainly put an interesting spin on the ongoing dramas at the club.
With the weekend illustrating that the desire to force the manager out is not as great amongst the fans as the desire for him to change his modus operandi, clawing back the deficit to Spurs would leave everyone feeling rather more positive.
Indeed, it would make Leicester’s impending miracle feel more of an odd aberration than a damning indictment of Arsenal, especially since they could still match all but our two best points totals (01-02 and 03-04, lest we forget).
There is also something more fundamental than all these considerations.
If we go for it against what is likely to be a Man City side tired after a trip to Madrid, and beat them reasonably comfortably, it would go a long way to repairing the relationship between fans and team.
A large part of what has made the team’s recent malaise so depressing is that the football has largely been dull, the team have lacked dynamism and focus, and the results have been unconvincing at best.
Certainly goals in Manchester for Giroud, Walcott and maybe a midfielder would be a case of ‘cat – meet pigeons’.
We can but hope….