When I think back to how I felt at certain low points in this season, particularly in the first few months of the campaign, I realise how unexpected Arsenal’s current position is.
After the record hammering at Man U, the stupid 3-4 loss at Blackburn and the defeat at Tottenham, there seemed little hope of earning fourth place let alone third. Even as late as February when we stood in seventh place, five points off fourth, there was only a faint hope of keeping our place in the Champions League.
At those points, any Arsenal supporter would have settled for being in control of our destiny on the final day of the season, one win away from securing third place.
But in-keeping with the ‘one week is a long time in football’ cliché, now we have managed to get ourselves in exactly that position, it will feel like a huge failure if we mess up this second (or third? fourth? fifth?) chance we’ve been given.
I would hope the boys have learned their lesson from last week and will not buckle under the expectation of finishing with a flourish. Having spent the last few days saying their farewells to Pat Rice, it would certainly be fitting for them to play up to the standard he has set for the past half century.
Unfortunately no-one knows what we will get from this team tomorrow, or any match day. Will it spring out of the traps and roll the opponent over? Will it be fully focused and defensively sound for the full 90-plus minutes? Will the passing game click? Will it just rely on RVP to win for us? Or will it withdraw into its shell when the opponent shows it is up for a fight? Will it let in a sloppy set piece? Will it go two goals up, think the game is won and let it slip? Will a man get foolishly sent off and leave us fighting against the odds?
Every game is different for every team, of course, but until we get to a stage where we are at least 90 per cent sure how Arsenal will perform, we’ll not challenge for a title again.
The other worry is this is Roy Hodgson’s final game as WBA manager. He is hardly a legend at the club, admittedly, but he has done a fine job in keeping them in mid-table over the past couple of years and players and fans will no doubt want to send him off on a high. You sense we will need to quell the home support early on if it isn’t going to become an uncomfortable afternoon.
I confess I have a horrible sense of quasi-déjà vu, hailing back to the finale of the 2005/06 season when we were the chasers and Spurs were being chased. Let’s hope this time the team in front avoids the lasagne at the buffet and finishes the job.