It’s bad enough that we’re in 5th place.
Going into the final round of matches relying on favours from other teams is never a good place to be. For all our flirtations with Europa League football over the years, we’ve very rarely left our destiny in the hands of others.
Yet as Everton’s team coach pulls up at the Emirates, we’ll all have only half an eye on our own game for the first time in a long time. In fact, you have to trawl back into cobwebby areas of your memory bank to recall the last time we’ve had to overly worry about the goings on at another Premier League game.
For one day only, we’re all Watford fans hoping for an unlikely win to leave City within reach.
And perhaps more crucially, for one day only, we’ll be vociferously behind Middlesbrough as they aim to topple Liverpool.
Our centre backs have been increasingly impressive in recent games, with Monreal and Holding stepping up to facilitate our new back three. Yet it’s a very different Arsenal defender we’re hoping for a positive showing from – over to you Mr Chambers.
Could history repeat itself?
I couldn’t help thinking this week, I’d feel a heck of a lot more confident about our chances if, instead of hoping that Liverpool or Man City slip up, it was actually Spurs who we needed to bottle it.
They have form after all.
But if we can’t have perennial chokers as the opposition, we can at least rely on a solid, already-relegated North-East club to crack open the door. Boro, here’s to you doing a Newcastle, and we’ll welcome you back to the Premier League in the summer of 2018 with open arms.
A 5-1 would do very nicely thank you very much!
This is where football is a killer.
As long as the coveted Champions League places are in touching distance, we dare to hope, to dream. Five games ago, I was convinced we were dead and buried, but seven wins from the last eight have at least meant we’ve kept the pressure up on City and Liverpool to the final day.
Once again, the regret is Spurs.
But if we miss out on Sunday, it won’t be because Liverpool beat Boro, or City turn Watford over.
We shouldn’t have got to the of point needing favours.
Too little, and maybe too late
The anaemic 2-1 home loss to Watford at home on the last day of January stands out. As do the visits to West Brom and Palace which demonstrated exactly why we find ourselves making sacrifices to Bergkamp.
But our recent improvement in fortunes also throws those games into stark contrast.
When they feel like it, we have the players to entertain, to obliterate, to conquer.
When they’re on form, they’ve been able to go toe to toe with everyone they’ve faced.
When we play at our highest tempo, we’re very difficult to live with.
But too often this season, we have lacked that form, tempo and feeling.
Instead, we’ve seen play as slow and sideways as during our austerity period nadir.
We’ve seen the simplest of passes blindly and regularly being misplaced straight to our opposition. And we’ve seen players kicking the ground in frustration.
Everyone supposedly knows Arsenal play good football, but you’d be hard pressed to find much evidence of it this year.
It’s been limp and lacklustre
I’d venture to say that since the turn of the year, we probably only played well in one game Even the 4-0 victory over Swansea came in a second half glut featuring two own goals after we had played terribly for large stretches.
The only game where we put in a respectable performance was the 5-0 demolition of Southampton in the cup, when we played our reserves . They demonstrated that released from the burden of poor form, we do have some actual players.
Even in our last eight games, we veered between distinctly average and terrible in unconvincing wins over Boro, City and Leicester, before the abysmal effort at White Hart Lane.
Mourinho’s visit was the first time in half a season when our first team actually played well, more or less, for a full 90 minutes. Shocking.
Our worst run ever?
One thing Arsene has always had in his corner is that when things get bad, he’s pretty good at stopping the rot.
Our opening day goal-fest defeat to Liverpool was promptly followed up by a dour goalless draw against Leicester to instil some defensive solidity and confidence.
We then went on to win seven domestic games on the spin, and go eighteen unbeaten in all competitions.
It’s hard to believe, as we sit facing a nerve-wracking final sprint for the European places, that we once went 18 unbeaten in this season. Yet that’s how badly this season derailed from mid-December onwards.
2016: P27 W17 D6 L4
2017: P26 W16 D2 L8
Perhaps that doesn’t quite tell the story, with the 2017 numbers fleshed out by cup wins over non-league opposition.
All we can do is ensure that we go into our final game looking to secure the same number of wins in 2017 and we achieved in 2016. If we can do so by a decent margin and bring City’s result into play then so much the better.
For all the horrors of the last five or so months, we still have a chance.
Where there’s life there’s hope.
We just need to hope there’s also still life in Watford or Boro, or, ideally, both.
Up the Arsenal, for better or worse.
At least we still have an FA Cup Final to look forward to no matter Sunday’s outcome.
You never know, the right results in the league might even give us a boost for the Wembley showpiece.
Well, a girl can dream…