The last few weeks have been difficult for Arsenal.
First the Carling Cup was thrown away in extraordinary circumstances.
Then a terrible refereeing decision at the Nou Camp ended hopes of pulling off a Champions League upset against the best team in the world.
Finally, Manchester United, our major title rivals, put out a severely-understrength team in our FA Cup quarter-final clash, but still managed to knock us out of the competition in an utterly frustrating and familiar manner.
Yet as we prepare for the final sprint in what has been an eventful and emotional season, the reality is that the trophy that we crave the most, the Premier League title, remains there for the taking.
Just three points separates us from Manchester United at the top of the table and with a game in hand, and Sir Alex Ferguson’s side still to play as at Emirates Stadium, the ball is in our court.
With no other competitions to tire and distract us, despite a poor run of results and bad luck, including a veritable waterfall of injury problems, our chances of becoming the champions remain as strong at this stage of the season as they have been since we won the Premier League in 2004.
It was thought that one of the biggest hurdles we would have to overcome would be the strain of injuries to key players. But the sudden clearing of our football calendar means that this is not the case.
It is true that Johan Djourou and Wojciech Szczesny are more than likely to miss the rest of the season — hence the return of 41-year-old Jens Lehmann to provide some emergency goalkeeping cover — but the story is decidedly better for the rest of our injured players.
After tomorrow’s clash with West Brom there is a rather convenient two-week international break that will allow the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song and Theo Walcott the opportunity to get fit and prepare themselves for the run-in.
Indeed, given that we only have to play two games in a week just once before the end of the season, there is nothing stopping us from playing our best available team for every one of our last ten league games. The usual requirement of rotating to keep the squad fresh becomes irrelevant: if our players can’t give their all once a week for the rest of the season with the league title up for grabs then it’s safe to conclude they never will.
All this means that given the disappointments of recent weeks there is much to be optimistic about. We are right in there with a chance, perhaps even taking on the status of favourites given our ability to focus completely on the league, and that is an exciting proposition.
Despite this there is a growing sense that this group of players appears incapable of taking the final, most difficult step of actually winning something.
While the Carling Cup final defeat was freakish and the Champions League exit was more than understandable given the quality of the opposition and the performance of the referee, there was no excuse for the loss to Manchester United in the FA Cup.
They had an inferior team on the pitch, a tricky Champions League tie against Marseille to play three days later and were there to be beaten. But despite most of the possession and a multitude of good opportunities, once again at Old Trafford, we couldn’t get the job done. And they did.
It was the manner of the United defeat that gives me the feeling that despite our good position in the league, despite our ability to focus completely on one competition, we will probably fail to take that final step again.
As such, I go into the final ten games of the season with a hell of a lot of hope but very little expectation: a psychological state fine-tuned over the past six seasons to soften the blow of failure and maximise the joy of success.
How about you?
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