Arsenal gamely kept their battle for a top four spot alive with victory over a poor Sunderland side last night, but there was a definite air of futility to proceedings which tempered any joy that a sixth consecutive win might otherwise have brought.
To their credit, the players kept running, kept winning the ball back, and kept trying to create chances but there was a certain air of resignation among them, a feeling that, no matter how many goals they won by, their quest for the top four would ultimately be fruitless.
Frankly, I can understand that.
Bar a final-day miracle, Arsenal will more than likely finish the season just a single point outside the top four, having left it a game or two too late to save their season. Those crushing defeats at Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion probably will turn out to be as damaging as they felt at the time.
Of course, that doesn’t mean they should stop the fight and simply throw in the towel on Sunday when Everton visit, but it is difficult to suppress the feeling of “if only” when watching this side rack up the wins.
If only Arsene Wenger had decided to make the switch to three at the back after our first drubbing at the hands of Bayern Munich. If only he had no dragged his team on for a month or two more, lurching from one poor performance to the next while the points slipped away.
If only this team had woken up earlier, we might be looking down at this point, instead of meekly looking up in the hope that someone does us an almighty favour, on a similar scale to lasagne gate all those years ago.
But let’s take nothing away from the victory which, in isolation, saw a return to the swashbuckling Arsenal side of years gone by. In the second half especially, the team was relentless in its pursuit of goals. Scarcely have I seen a Premier League match so one-sided, so poor were David Moyes’s Sunderland side.
But for an inspired performance from young Jordan Pickford in the visitor’s goal, it could have been five or six, with the talented stopper making some excellent saves to halt the red tide.
The Gunners continued to build on their recent successes in the league and showed signs that they are starting to acclimatise to the demands of the 3-4-3 system. In fact, they have started to look pretty good. Along with goals and plenty of cut and thrust up top, there was the added bonus of another clean sheet at the back, adding confidence to a defence that has really suffered at times this year.
Alexis Sanchez added two more goals to his tally this season, and there may yet be a golden boot in the offing for him, while Mesut Ozil pulled some strings and collected another assist for his collection.
If nothing else, it is great to see those two clicking into gear again, particularly with the FA Cup final looming large in the distance. If they can stay fit and firing, we give ourselves a much better chance of claiming a little piece of silver lining in a season that looks like it will end in stormy disappointment.
All said and done, the Gunners did exactly what they needed to do to keep the fight going to the final day. The fightback may have come too late to make the difference we needed it to, but they have at least showed that there is some fight left in this squad. Onwards to the weekend, with fingers crossed for one more miracle.