The players are on the beach.

That’s the accusation often levelled at mid-table teams in the last ten games, and John Carver is transparently getting irritated with how often it’s it currently discussed relating to Newcastle. Danny Higginbotham recently confirmed that, for the players themselves, no matter how much they want to get up for games, subconsciously it just isn’t the same for those ‘nothing to play for‘ games.

Burnley, then, are a rather tougher assignment this weekend than they might have presented earlier in the season, fighting for their Premier League lives.

There is an upside though – it may not be where the fans dreamed of being at this stage of the season back in August, but at least it’s interesting. By the same token there is an argument that over the last ten years of top four finishes but little else, at least we have been kept interested right up to the final day on a number of occasions

By the skin of our teeth

Back in 2006, we were left needing Spurs to drop points on the final day against West Ham while we needed to beat Wigan to claim 4th place. Lasagne-gate saw us defeat Wigan 4-2 while Spurs fell at the final hurdle 2-1. It may not have been the title glory we dreamed of, but it was exciting!

Fast forward to 2012, when we went into the last game of the season knowing that the team who finished in 4th place had a chance of missing out on Champions League football due to Chelsea’s place in the final and faltering league form. We eventually secured a 3-2 win away at West Brom through three errors from former Spurs keeper Marton Fulop and a fabulous match saving tackle from Kieran Gibbs. Again, it may not have been the dream, but it was definitely exciting.

Finally, consider 2013, once again needing a result on the final day to secure our place in Europe’s premier competition. We went a goal up away Newcastle, needing to win to ensure a third place finish ahead of Spurs, when Newcastle scored a phantom goal – the ‘1-1 at Newcastle’ rumour started doing the rounds and got Spurs fans all excited when in fact no such goal had been scored.

Again, it may not have been the dream, but it was definitely exciting.

Boring, boring Arsenal?

This year we are ensconced in second place, knowing that at least one of the teams below us in the Champions League places must drop points this weekend. It’s not exactly relaxing, but it’s hard to remember the last time we felt this comfortable at this stage of the season.

Man City are in shocking form and have tough away assignments at Man United and Spurs before the season end. United, correspondingly, have to play their local rivals, but also face Chelsea and ourselves before the seasons end. Indeed, the average position of Arsenal’s opposition between now and May is 11th, whereas United and City face 9th and 10th respectively.

Below the dotted line on the league table, Liverpool and Spurs are both now nine points (and might as well be 10, based on goal differences) behind, with Southampton a further point back. Liverpool have the slightly easier fixtures, facing quite a few midtable sides (Newcastle, West Brom, Crystal Palace and Stoke) but with just seven games to go, 10 points is an enormous gap and would require a perfect run-in from Rodgers’ team.

They still have to face Chelsea, in any case, and with the FA Cup to distract them, it’s hard to see our top four status under threat.


So are we also on the proverbial beach then?

For once we’re not panicking to catch up – we’re ahead and more or less cruising, unbeaten in 10 games domestically and with both our attack and our defence having hugely improved seasons.

We can effectively afford to lose to both United and Chelsea and still finish in the top four. As long as we continue to deliver flat-track bully performances against some of the less glamorous sides in the league, we will be home and dry.

Of course, it is significantly preferable for us to finish third or higher, simply to avoid the stress and uncertainty of a Champions League qualifier, something we’ve only managed four times in the last 10 seasons, not to mention that it would allow us to get our business done sooner over the summer.

And we have the FA Cup semi-final (and hopefully final) to worry about.

But that’s not all we have to play for.

Laying down a marker

In the summer of 2003 the Invincibles (or the team which would more or less become the Invincibles) threw away the league. It’s harsh, but there’s really no other description for it.

The final two games of the season saw us win 10-1 on aggregate against Southampton and Sunderland, but finish second to Man United.

It was disappointing.

Ultimately those two games set a marker which effectively said ‘who wins the league depends on whether we turn up’. It’s exactly the same way that golfers are currently saying that if Rory McIlroy brings his A-game he will win the masters. In other words – it’s not about you, it’s about us.

We all know what happened in 2003-04.

This season we may finish a respectable second, in a year where we are still building from our austerity period and started so terribly. We have an opportunity to finish strongly, retain our FA Cup trophy, and even throw in an end to this ridiculous hold Mourinho has over Wenger.*

*Not to mention, nothing would make me happier than to exact some revenge on the Chelsea manager for ruining Arsene’s 1,000th game in charge, a day where my heart broke a tiny bit.

We have a chance to scare everyone else silly, and more importantly to instil even more belief in our own players.

Both of the ‘new money’ sides cited the importance of their first trophy in giving them a platform to kick on, that belief that is needed for a sustained title challenge.

Although we won the FA Cup last year, in the back of everyone’s head is still the fact that the team we beat (and made hard work of) in the final was Hull City. Even in the semi-final, we only faced (and made hard work of) Wigan.

We have momentum, and we have a chance to retain the trophy, potentially against Liverpool.

If we can finish the league strongly and celebrate at Wembley again come the end of May, we will be laying the foundations for our best season in a decade next year.

First, we need to do the job on Saturday, against a Burnley side which has just as much to play for.

We need to remember what we’re playing for:

To shout to the world that Arsenal Football Club is back in the big time.