No poisoned lasagne means no Champions League for Arsenal despite spirited win

There was to be no fresh delivery of pestilential lasagne as Arsenal were denied an against-the-odds spot in the Champions League as both Liverpool and Manchester City did the business in their respective matches.

In truth it was always going to be a miraculous achievement to snatch a top four spot having left it so late to start performing, and it proved one miracle too many for the Gunners as they gallantly missed out by a single point.

There was a moment, around the 40-minute mark, where I allowed myself to begin to dream as Liverpool looked to be in a pickle at home to Middlesbrough but, as they did against West Ham the previous weekend, they blundered their way into the lead and didn’t look back.

Manchester City by contrast, should have simply been given the three points without a ball being kicked, given how pathetic Watford were by way of opposition.

At the Emirates, and despite another good performance and a win, it was tremendously frustrating today for Arsenal. The Gunners have reeled off a set of seven wins in succession since switching to three at the back, and have looked pretty strong since having done so, as good as they have done this year.

But it was all too late, probably a week away from being the ideal time to hit form.

We have seen it time and again from this team. A great start to the season, a missing three-month period in the middle, and a heroic late rally to carry them to glory and raise hopes of better days to come.

Such a tactic has proved risky over the years and, sooner or later, it was going to fail. Unfortunately, this was the season when the chickens finally came home to roost.

I take nothing away from the seven or eight-game run that has seen the Gunners play something like the sort of football they are well capable of. They have swept aside of a number of pretty handy sides in the process and have restored a little of the pride that was torn to shreds in February, March and April.

The fact remains, however, that they will be plying their trade in the Europa League next season, because they couldn’t find a way to win – or at least not lose – when it really mattered.

What sort of ramifications the fifth-placed finish will have on our manager and our squad in the summer remains to be seen but it is undoubtedly a setback.

In the short-term, the team must refocus and set its sights on salvaging a little joy from a difficult season as they take on Chelsea in the FA Cup final next weekend.

It may well be difficult to pick themselves up again after such a disappointing end to the season, but nobody can say that they aren’t in good form ahead of the showpiece clash at the home of football.

It looks certain, barring a miracle appeal to the FA, that Laurent Koscielney will be out of action for the final after he was handed a straight red by Michael Oliver for a first-half lunge, and a serious-looking injury to Gabriel in the second half means our options at the back are much lighter than we would have liked.

Alexis Sanchez also left the pitch in the second half holding his hamstring and that will be a huge worry for the Gunners as they look for ways to overcome a Chelsea side that has scarcely wobbled this season.

There will be some clarity in mid-week when the club’s medical staff are given the chance to assess both injury situations so, until then, all we can do is chew our collective finger nails and battle our collective angst on that front.

Taking this day in isolation, it was a pretty comfortable win over an Everton side that had a man advantage for more than 70 minutes. But for some huffs and puffs, and a lot of crosses and high balls, the Gunners kept the Toffees at arm’s length and were good value for the win. Their fight and resilience was tested to its limit and, to their credit, they showed real character to pick up the win. Fair play to them for that.

Reasons to be cheerful

HECTOR BELLERIN

After a real ropey two-month period in which all form and confidence seemed to desert him, the young Spaniard has fought his way back admirably in recent weeks and looked against Everton like the sort of player who is such a danger going forward and so alert at the back.

If Alex Oxlade Chamberlain makes it back to fitness in time, Hector may well find himself on the bench for the cup final, but a goal and a pretty solid all-round effort against Everton will do him no end of good should he be called upon next week.

MESUT OZIL

Having taken huge amounts of flak during the club’s collective downturn, Mesut is another player who has shown how much a good system can do for him. Like Aaron Ramsey, he looks a player renewed in the 3-5-2, and pulled the strings against Everton in a way that I have not seen in a long time.

He looked relaxed, he looked confident, and he was consistently dangerous in possession. Granted, this was an Everton side desperate to go on holiday, and Chelsea will be an entirely different proposition next week, but it is great to see Mesut looking so creative and so dangerous – the player we all know he can be.

THE SYSTEM

Another week, another win using three at the back. Ok, they may have been forced to switch to a flat back four given the circumstances later in the game, but it was another opportunity for the Gunners to get used to playing the system that has brought them a good deal of success in the last six weeks.

Making it work against Chelsea, who have been at it for the majority of the season, will be a different matter altogether but the Gunners were tasked with improving their performances since making the tactical switch and they have done that every week since they did so.

You will have to go far to find a fan who is confident we will come away with the trophy next week, but we have at least given ourselves a fighting chance.

The change may have come too late, but at least it was made.

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