It’s difficult to overstate the importance of the Europa League final to Arsenal, both for the immediate and medium-term future of the club.
There’s no suggestion we are in imminent danger of financial ruin should we fail to beat Chelsea on Wednesday – we’re far too well run for that – but our stature and ability to compete in the years ahead depends a great deal on what we are able to do in Baku.
Success means fresh investment, extra cash, and the inevitable prestige that comes with playing in Europe’s premier club competition.
Failure means another season battling against the odds – lengthy trips to far flung corners of the continent, the tiresome Thursday-Sunday schedule, a significant drop in revenue, and a widening of the gap between ourselves and the Premier League’s best.
Put succinctly, we need to win.
One gets the impression, from the noises coming out of the club, that there is a plan A and plan B for this summer and next season. Plan A is Champions League qualification and furnishing Unai Emery with the finance he needs to take this squad to a more competitive level.
Plan B is, well, it’s not worth thinking about what plan B is and where it may take us. Suffice to say, it feels a lot like stagnation.
I’m sure there was a lot of teeth-gnashing around the boardroom table when Arsenal’s stranglehold on a top four place wilted into nothingness, with the Gunners producing one of the worst finishing runs in recent memory to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Mercifully, however, they have earned themselves another bite of the cherry and a chance to flesh out the vision for the team that convinced the board to back Emery in the first place.
So, how do we get past Chelsea?
I think the key will be playing as if our lives depend on it, but in a way that doesn’t mean the pressure of that reality consumes us.
Be acutely aware that it’s shit or bust, but don’t dwell on it. Simple, right?
Unfortunately, this is an Arsenal side that rarely produces its best under pressure. Our reputation for Goldilocks football is well-known and well-earned.
That said, our performance in the second leg of our semi-final against Valencia threatened to be the sort of match in which the Gunners may have imploded. To their credit, they held firm and, in the end, ran out comfortable and worthy winners.
Clearly, they are capable of facing down their demons but teasing such a performance out of them is a conundrum no man has yet proven equal to.
If Emery can muster his troops for the charge, we stand an excellent chance, particularly as Chelsea have, on occasion this season, show themselves to be every bit as inconsistent as Arsenal.
It may well be a question of motivation, of concentration, or of down right brilliance in the key moments.
Big games are where you want your big players to produce their match-winning best. Both Arsenal and Chelsea have the sort of talismanic performers capable of doing just that and, when it comes down to it, it may be left to those geniuses to decide where the Europa League trophy ends up.
All we can do, therefore, is get our basics right. Make sure the details are correct, from defending corners, to playing out from the back, to pressing in pairs – if the basics are taken care of, the finer details will look after themselves.
Make sure Aubameyang and Lacazette are supplied and they will make the chances.
If we get caught in a tactical half-way house, however, producing the sort of over-cautious turgid rubbish we saw against the likes of Everton, West Ham, and Leicester this season, our challenge will be snuffed out quickly and ruthlessly.
A piece of European silverware for the cabinet and Champions League qualification would rank as an excellent first season for Emery and his squad, but the line between all and nothing is perilously thin.
And, if our immediate future depends on us lifting the trophy on Wednesday day, that line may be even thinner than we realise.