There was an eerie feeling of déjà vu about last night’s win over West Brom.
Deep inside me there was a nagging feeling that I’d seen it all before – or something very much like it – and it was almost impossible to shake off.
And then it came to me: I had seen it before, barely four days previously when Crystal Palace arrived at the Emirates and left with a point – scarcely deserved and ill-gotten – but a point nonetheless.
The only difference between the two games was the result – one game we managed all three points, in the other we had to settle for one.
But the similarities between the games were staggering. The opposition, feckless and turgid in both cases, barely bothered with playing football. Both Palace and West Brom, safe in the Premier League for another season, were content to see out the 90 minutes, pinning any faint hopes of victory on the odd set piece, or swift counter attack.
In both games Arsenal dominated. They managed 20 shots and 72 per cent possession against Palace, with 16 shots and 71 per cent possession against West Brom.
Between them, in both games, the opposition managed just 15 shots – less than half of Arsenal’s tally.
The sole difference between the two games was efficiency. There is an extremely fine margin between glory and disaster in football and Arsenal walked the line in these two games and, indeed, for most of this season.
The difference between battling to finish in third and pushing for the title has been those fine margins: not putting teams to bed when they have had the opportunity to do so.
Arsene Wenger himself acknowledged it in his post game press conference.
Asked about the difference between last night’s win and the frustrating 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace last Sunday, Wenger said simply “the second goal”, before going on to add:
“I couldn’t see us dropping points [against Palace] but, of course, as long as you don’t score the second goal, you have that problem.
“Tonight we scored the second goal in the first half and, after that, the game was never in doubt.
“It was important to win the game. The positions in the table at the moment are not definite so we know we have a battle with that but overall, I think it was important to be back in a strong position, and to win games for the confidence of the players because we were in the lead against Crystal Palace and against West Ham but didn’t win the game so it was important to win tonight and not concede a goal.”
Aaron Ramsey, who returned to the starting lineup after a couple of weeks spent on the bench, added:
“We played with a real purpose from the off and we created opportunities. We managed to take a couple of them and I thought we deserved it today.
“That is perhaps where we have been lacking in the last couple of games. We definitely proved what we could do tonight and if we play like that all the time there is no reason why we can’t win every game.”
The real question that will hang over this season is quite why the team has been so inefficient in front of goal. It could be a lack of a killer striker, it could be a tendency to overplay around the box, it could even be superb goalkeeping and simple bad luck.
Whatever it is, it will have to be addressed in the summer – one way or another – because it simply isn’t going to correct itself, and time has proven as much.
For the rest of this season, I suspect we will continue to walk that line between glory and disaster. We could quite easily put four or five past Sunderland, but, there again, we could very possibly slip to another draw, and that’s both the beauty and the pain of watching this Arsenal side.