The visit of Stoke to the Emirates Stadium tomorrow (Sunday) has something of a hollow, listless feeling to it.
Though we have been without Premier League action for the greater part of a fortnight and that, in and of itself, should be reason enough to be excited and motivated for the match, it still feels as though it is lacking something.
Perhaps when the circus of modern club football gets up and running again things will start to intensify and matter more but, for now, without much at stake, the visit of Stoke simply lacks excitement.
A big part of that is doubtless because of the vast gap that exists between ourselves and the promised land of the Premier League top four, which has blunted that sense of drive and urgency that we normally feel around this time of the season.
I fear that, even if we were to win all our remaining games, it still wouldn’t be enough to sneak into the Champions League places, such is the mess we have made for ourselves in that respect.
It is that sense of hopelessness that means, were we to lose tomorrow, it wouldn’t really matter that much, outside of our goal not top slip even further down the table, that is.
The only solace there appears to be is in building a little momentum and adding a dash of feel-good factor. A little of that was accrued before the international break and, after weeks and months of malaise, it honestly felt good to be talking about winning again.
It can’t hurt, therefore, to aim to keep that feeling going and to give the fans something to hold on to as we head towards the final weeks of the most turbulent season many of us have yet experienced as Arsenal fans.
There is also the greater goal of the Europa League, our back door into the biggest party in town, and how important it is that we do well in that competition. If it means nothing else, a victory over Stoke will allow us to accrue a smidge more confidence and belief ahead of the clash against CSKA Moscow, and a smidge might be all that separates us from defeat and victory.
So while it is difficult for us to look too much into what is a fairly tepid league encounter, there is meaning in the bigger picture, and I hope that the players are taking the time to look at that too.
Of course, as football professionals and sportsmen, you would hope the chance of victory in a game of rock, paper, scissors against the club kit man would motivate the Arsenal team to do their best, let alone the incentive of three points in the greatest league in world football.
Most important of all, it would seem to me, is consistency and to pick up from where we left off against AC Milan before the break. In a mini-run of three matches Arsenal showed a little more fight, a little more organisation, and a little more ability than they had done in the previous run of games and they should be striving to show still more when the whistle blows against Stoke tomorrow.
As to the match itself, I expect Stoke will try to make it as physical encounter that is bogged down and fragmented. Disrupting Arsenal’s rhythm and denying the team time and space is an oft-tried and oft-successful method of getting a result against them so Arsene Wenger’s side will have to be at their incisive best to make sure they are not sucked into the kind of game the visitors want them to play.
It is not so much about mixing it and going toe-to-toe with Stoke as it is about imposing our game on them, in the same way that Manchester City suffocate opponents with their brand of football.
If we are able to do that, with the talent at our disposal, we should simply be too much for the likes of Stoke, who find themselves in the midst of a relegation battle. If we allow them dictate the pace and style, however, we face a long afternoon and will, frankly, have learned little from the lessons we have been taught all too often this season.
My hope is that, in the short time they have been back since the end of the international break, the team will have been talking at length about the important of the organisation and discipline they showed against AC Milan and how that should be the basis of their football in the month or so that remains of the season.