This ought to have been a good weekend for Arsenal.
A fixture against relegated QPR presented an opportunity to stamp our authority on the race for Champions League qualification. It was a chance to comfortably secure three points, and perhaps even surpass Chelsea’s goal difference advantage.
Chelsea themselves were set to travel to Old Trafford. If they were to slip up in any of their remaining four league games, this was surely the one.
As it turned out, Arsenal scraped to an unconvincing 1-0 win at Loftus Road, turning in their worst performance in weeks. That in itself is no bad thing: at this stage of the season results are everything.
However, Chelsea’s unexpected triumph at Old Trafford darkened the mood and precipitated a flurry of finger-pointing. If Spurs were to win at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, it would be truly out of our hands.
Let me be clear: if Arsenal finish fifth, it will not be the fault of Manchester United for losing to Chelsea. It will not be the fault of Alex Ferguson for fielding a weakened team. It will not be the fault of Robin van Persie for failing to put them to the sword.
Nor will it be the fault of Bacary Sagna for his mistimed lunge on the Dutchman at the Emirates, or Olivier Giroud for missing several presentable opportunities in the home game against Everton.
This will not have been decided by one incident, or one game. If Arsenal falter in their final match against Newcastle, that will wrongly be remembered as the day Arsenal lost the Champions League spot.
The truth is it would have been lost long before, as a consequence of systematic summers of failure and a season of dreary disappointment.
The fact we’re even in the running for the top four is the consequence of an extraordinary and anomalous run, but that good form should not allow us to overlook everything that came before.
The final league standings will be the consequence of 38 games. Unfortunately for Arsenal, the first 28 of those games yielded just 13 wins.
I enjoy the race for fourth, because it provides the illusion of genuine competition. As a supporter, you crave contesting something until the last second of the season. The thrills and spills of that kind of topsy-turvy battle are what make being a fan such an enthralling experience. However, it’s not a real trophy. It’s a surrogate.
What’s more, the margins are so fine that I’m not sure they allow us to make any valuable judgements. I’m not sure that if Arsene Wenger finishes a single point ahead of Andre Villas Boas it makes his season that much more successful.
As it stands, all we can do is sit and wait. By the time we play our next game against Wigan we should have a much clearer idea of exactly what’s required. Wednesday night’s clash between Spurs and Chelsea will be critical.
You’ll have to forgive me for feeling a little ambivalent about the whole thing. I hope we make the top four, but fundamentally I am more interested in why we finish 20 points behind United than whether we finish two points ahead of Chelsea.