I have to confess to a tinge of regret amid the overwhelming sense of satisfaction at the win over Leeds on Sunday.
Not regret at the goals we conceded or regret that we couldn’t add the fifth and perhaps sixth goals our performance warranted, it was more a sense of regret I felt when looking at the league table after the match. It was a feeling of what might have been.
Reward for our 4-2 victory was a haul of three points that moved us onto 34 for the season and into 10th place, a mere six points from Liverpool who are currently floundering in fourth – the last Champions League spot. Just consider that for a moment; after all that has happened and after all the heartache, we’re a mere six points from the promised land.
And that’s when the regret hit me, the unavoidable barrage of ‘what ifs’ that all football fans feel as the mind runs back those moments that might have changed matches, those decisions that didn’t go our way. Imagine, for example, if we hadn’t been hamstrung by the referee at Wolves a few weeks ago? Imagine if a competent set of officials had applied the law as they should have done that day and three precious points hadn’t been snatched away from us?
And imagine then, if Granit Xhaka had decided to just walk away against Burnley when the Gunners were on the cusp of breaking the deadlock, instead of being goaded into a red card, a red card which ultimately cost us a game we had no business losing.
All of a sudden, Arsenal have 40 points instead of 34 and are level on points with Liverpool in fourth. All of a sudden our entire season is transformed, not by some massive overhaul of our squad or playing style but in just two small moments, mere seconds in matches in which things have gone against us when they could have so easily gone in our favour.
Ultimately, though, it is in those moments that matches are settled and fortunes are decided.
However much things should or could have happened, they didn’t and they haven’t, and we find ourselves in 10th – arguably exactly where we should be given how this season has panned out and how we’ve performed in the key moments.
But victory over Leeds offered up a tantalising glimpse of what might have been and, just maybe, could still be. This team has a discernible shape now, it has a developing style and sense of organisation. Instead of passively ceding the initiative in matches, this team is now imposing itself, its confidence growing.
As time goes on and the squad develops, so too will its confidence and its adaptability and, ultimately, so too will its decision-making and experience. Of course, no manager can ever coach against the sort of refereeing ineptitude that is becoming all-too-familiar in the Premier League but we can take control of our own behaviour and decision-making. In short, we can turn those ‘what ifs’ into points.
For now though, I can’t help but look at the league table and feel that pang of regret. No matter how good we are – two goals, three goals, four goals – we might just have been that little better. When we look back, it may just be the story of our season.