There are precious few occasions in football in which you simply have to shrug your shoulders after the final whistle and admit ‘we were unlucky’.
But Thursday night’s 1-1 draw against Athletico Madrid was undoubtedly one of those occasions, a night in which we deserved more and simply didn’t get it.
The only thing that surprised me post-match was the amount of criticism levelled at the team for not somehow being four or five goals to the good. I thought most of it was unwarranted and, frankly, a little bizarre.
Many pundits went to great lengths to point out that Athletico have conceded just 15 goals all season but then acted with great shock and dismay that Arsenal had only been able to muster a single goal against Europe’s most miserly defence.
In truth, we had the opportunities to score at least a goal or two more than we did but we were kept at bay by an excellent defensive unit and an even better goalkeeper, who raised his stock immeasurably with some smart saves.
There is no denying that, given the man advantage we enjoyed for some 80 minutes of the match, to come away with a draw felt like a smack in the chops, but the intensity, effort and level of performance against one of the top sides in Europe cannot be cast aside so readily.
I thought it was probably the best Arsenal performance of the season, albeit without the result to go with it.
That Athletico came away with a precious away goal was the only fly in the ointment for me and that transpired through a quite freakish series of events that, if we played the game another 100 times, wouldn’t occur a second time.
I don’t deny that our three-man defence should have done much better in dealing with a simple hoof up field from the visitor’s defence. Up until that point, the defence had been largely untroubled and had marshalled any threat reasonably well.
But you just can’t legislate for a player smashing the ball into his own face, a goalkeeper deflecting a ball back into the path of a striker, and a last defender slipping at the crucial moment, before actually serving to help the ball into the net.
By all means be critical, but when you see the goal, you have to acknowledge the level of misfortune that conspired to tarnish an otherwise excellent performance.
If we can muster that same commitment and energy again for 90 minutes next Thursday, we can push the Spaniards all the way to the wire, and I’m confident we will.
I have a great deal of respect for the way the visitors defended in difficult circumstances last Thursday, but I see plenty of opportunity for this team to make chances and, with some efficient finishing and a dash of good fortune, score goals. Aside from the overwhelmingly annoying ruthlessness of Antoine Griezmann, there seemed little about Madrid to worry me. I expect we will see more from Diego Simeone’s team next week, however.
In between now and then, there is a trip to Old Trafford to contend with, a fixture so devoid of meaning and intensity that I would rather it simply didn’t exist. The game is a dead rubber in almost every sense and I don’t think many of us hold out much hope of getting anything from the contest.
Frankly, as long as we avoid a hiding, I will be content. The Europa League is all that remains to us this season and we can’t afford to risk injury to any of the players who are crucial to that goal.
I suspect Jose Mourinho will also have one eye on the FA Cup final and, with second place in the Premier League all but sewn up, the fixture will probably play out like a pre-season friendly. I suspect it won’t make great viewing for either set of fans.