Victory over Burnley on Sunday saw Unai Emery’s Arsenal side produce exactly the sort of performance away from home they needed three weeks ago.
Although seldom pretty, it was battling, characterful and possessed of the sort of attacking efficiency needed when travelling to notoriously tricky mid-table teams.
Of course, had Arsenal played for the last month as they did at Turf Moor, they would have taken third place in the Premier League at a canter but, quite simply, they didn’t.
It was all so Arsenal-like to watch them stand up to, and cope with, the predictable physical battle posed by Burnley better than almost any other top six side this season. In a game the majority would have had us down for losing, the Gunners went out and won.
In the end, they finished just a point behind Tottenham in fourth and two points behind Chelsea in third – a painful reminder of the way they frittered away the golden opportunities they were repeatedly given by their rivals in abject fashion.
In fact, they had only to win their home matches against Crystal Palace and Brighton and they would be celebrating a remarkable season instead of sweating on an all-or-nothing Europa League clash with Chelsea in about two weeks.
When I saw the line-up for today’s game, I’ll confess I was not confident. The midfield pairing of Mohamed Elneny and Matteo Guendouzi has shown itself repeatedly this season to be flaccid, while the attacking trio of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alex Iwobi and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang looked set to be entirely isolated by the constipation behind them.
As it transpired, and despite a couple of veritable veterans in Nacho Monreal and Stefan Lichsteiner flying up and down the wings, the Gunners were actually pretty effective from an attacking perspective for large parts of the match. The direct running and, at times, the direct balls up to Aubameyang were too much for the Burnley defence.
I won’t pretend we had it all our own way, because Sean Dyche and his goblins made life as uncomfortable for us as they possibly could, but Arsenal showed a stomach for the battle that has been missing for a month.
Had they fought as hard against Leicester, Palace, Wolves, and, to a lesser extent, Brighton, they wouldn’t have found themselves in such a lamentable position.
Of course, the obvious difference in the victory over Burnley was the complete absence of pressure. In effect, there was nothing riding on the game and no consequence in defeat, and the impact that had on the players was tangible. A 3-1 win was, if we’re being honest, the last result most of us expected.
Given that these same playing personnel have underperformed and frozen up so badly on countless other occasions this season, you can only conclude that their problem has been a mental one.
That’s not really a shocking revelation, we have all suspected as much for two season, but this was real life evidence of that psychological flaw that has cost this side a spot in the top four and could end up costing some of the playing squad their place in the team.
The positive is that, over the course of two difficult-looking away fixtures, Arsenal have made a much better fist of things and come away with two high-scoring wins when we all feared things may have been so much worse.
If Emery can find a way to capture the essence of our last two performances and bottle it in time for May 29, we will be in good shape.
Until then, we can only reflect on the frustrations of our own inconsistency and pick over the bones of an opportunity missed. While we have performed better this season than many of us expected, there is a bitter taste in the mouth that is reminiscent of failure, although that may be washed out in a few weeks with cup final success. We can only hope.