Three games to go in this extraordinary season.
Three games to secure third place and a guarantee of Champions League football next year (not to mention the increased likelihood of retaining the services of a certain Dutchman who finds the net at moments of his own choosing).
Or three games to slip to fourth, maybe even fifth and re-ignite the poisonous debate about the future of our club and its most successful modern manager.
After a poor performance against Wigan and an unconvincing (though far from terrible) one against Chelsea, it would take a brave man to confidently predict a smooth run-in from here.
I’m not that brave.
I think it’s POSSIBLE we could win our next three games at a canter (Stoke away, Norwich home and West Brom away). I also think it’s possible we could lose two or even all three.
So let’s look at the balance sheet of pros and cons as we go into those games.
We have a full week to rest between each game. Not that it seems to have been doing us much good lately.
None of our remaining opponents have anything left to play for.
We have some margin for error – particularly over Totteringham, but also (slightly) over Newcastle thanks to our far superior goal difference.
In recent weeks this team has beaten Totteringham, Liverpool, Newcastle, Everton, AC Milan and Manchester City.
Benny the Goon will be available (he was ineligible to play against Chelsea).
Diaby is back and managed to complete half an hour on Saturday without injuring himself again.
Coquelin is fit again to provide more cover in midfield.
Tomas Rosicky has been in his best Arsenal form for years.
We have two of the best central defenders in Europe.
We have the second highest number of scorers of any team in the EPL this season (17).
We have Robin van Persie and he scores when he wants.
We have Arsène Wenger as our manager.
We are The Arsenal.
We are losing key players at this vital time.
Walcott is the latest to add to that list after idiotically trying to run off a hamstring pull. He reminded me of John Cleese playing a knight in The Holy Grail and getting his arm chopped off: “Just a flesh wound!”
With Walcott, Arteta, Mertesacker and Wilshere all unavailable for the rest of the season we can’t afford to have any more of our top players out – especially the PFA Player of the Year (Lord Dennis hear our prayers).
Arteta’s absence may well be the most crucial, as we tend not to win games without him and he dictates the tempo of the team. So far his replacements have been more garden gnome than metronome.
We still haven’t entirely shaken off last season’s bad habit of hitting the self destruct button (witness the two goals in two minutes conceded to Wigan).
In recent weeks this team has lost to both QPR and Wigan.
The zip and zing seems to have vanished from our open play. We need someone to just rip out the handbrake.
Tomas Rosicky is starting to look tired.
Robin van Persie has stopped scoring and looks jaded.
We have Arsène Wenger as our manager.
Which Arsenal are we?
When our strong run of results started in February (coinciding with the return of our orthodox fullbacks) one of the most striking things was the obvious camaraderie among the players.
Led by the captain, the team seemed really to be enjoying each other’s company and relishing one another’s successes.
Lately things have been harder going and the joy and togetherness engendered by some great wins and stunning late goals has been harder to spot.
If we are going to finish the 2011/12 season the way we all hope, the crucial factor (in my view) is going to be the players themselves. Arsene Wenger and the coaching staff can do their bit, but in these last three games it’s going to come down to the players refusing to fail.
In the last few seasons our players have not had the strength of character to finish strongly when it counted.
This year I believe we have a team with greater moral fibre, led by a captain with far greater powers to motivate and inspire than his sulky predecessor. Robin van Persie, regardless of his own scoring form, needs to remember that his role as leader and inspiration could still be the deciding factor in us finishing third.
(I’m sure you have your own ideas of ‘pros and cons’ that I have failed to include. Please share them in the comments).