Miracle finish may be out of reach but Arsenal still have something to fight for

For a short period last night, it seemed like all the stars were aligning – Spurs had lost, Arsenal had won and West Ham were trailing at West Brom.

With our north London rivals set to travel to Leicester on the final day, and Everton going to Manchester City, the stage seemed set for something quite extraordinary to happen. With one more little hiccup from West Ham, we stood on the cusp of entry back into the Europa League.

From the very abyss we were staring into following defeat to Villareal last month, the possibility, however remote, was like some kind of miracle.

Alas, that a late, late flurry from West Ham should deny us a dramatic last day shoot-out.

That said, going into the final day with even the remote possibility of stealing into seventh place – and the much-maligned Europa Conference League – feels like a turnaround of sorts even if the greater prize will elude us.

Whether the Conference League will be a pain in the arse rather than a boon is a blog for another day but, for now, we can revel in not being among the teams to have folded so spectacularly in this run in.

Four wins in-a-row is a brilliant little run and there is a real chance of making it five on Sunday, along with the consolation of finishing above Tottenham and winning more points than we did in 2019/20. If we’re searching for reasons to be optimistic, those should be reason enough.

As it is, victory over Palace last night was scarcely deserved and owed much more to the sort of ruthlessness that has often deserted us this season than to a dazzling display of footballing prowess.

The statistic that was most glaring of all flashed up in the 79th minute, with the score at 1-1, revealing that Mikel Arteta’s men hadn’t managed a single effort on goal in the second half. Not a scuffed shot, not a speculative effort from range, not even a sniff. That was absolutely damning.

Turgidity has been a problem for large parts of this season. We spend too much time in aimless phases of build-up that are too easily dealt with by the opposition, just as they were by Palace last night. Once they had figured out our plan, our goose was cooked.

In the end, we owed the win to pieces of brilliance late in the second half – first from Martin Odegaard and a sublime cross into the back post, and second to Nicolas Pepe and a quite brilliant solo effort.

But for those fleeting moments, we would probably have had to settle for a frustrating draw against a gutsy but ultimately poor Palace side. Boosted by a buoyant home crowd, the Eagles can be disappointed they didn’t come away with at least a point.

In the end, though, we got the result and have put ourselves in a position to take some measure of consolation from this season. It may not be the Great Escape finish that would have lived long in the memory but I don’t think our play this season has warranted that. Just like last night, we seem to have pulled things out of the fire rather than truly earned them in this campaign.

But there are reasons to be hopeful. The stars may not have aligned for us this time, but there’s still a chance St Totteringham’s Day can take us into orbit on Sunday.

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