As the 2011/12 Premier League season comes to a close, Arsenal will no doubt be delighted at how things have turned out. The London club was in dire straits earlier in the season, with a run of losses that included defeats to Tottenham, Blackburn, Manchester United (the infamous 2-8 massacre) and Liverpool - a run of only two wins in their opening seven games.
However, the Gunners have shrugged off a barrage of criticism, aimed at both players and the manager, Arsene Wenger, to twice mount an impressive series of performances - the first from 24 September (a 3-0 win at home against Bolton) to 18 December (a 1-0 win at home against Everton) and the second from 4 February (a 7-1 thrashing of Blackburn at the Emirates) to 8 April (a crucial 1-0 win over league high-flyers Manchester City).
Those two runs have seen Wenger's men climb back from being shockingly close to the relegation zone to leading the fight for third and the final automatic qualifying position for next season's Champions League. Regardless of whether one supports the club or not, the results have been little short of stunningly impressive.
Now, with only three games left in the season, the club is in the thick of a four-way fight for that third place, with Tottenham, Newcastle United and Chelsea. Unfortunately, the Gunners have failed to win their last two league games, both at home - a 1-2 loss to Wigan and a scoreless draw against Chelsea.
Nevertheless, Wenger still believes his side are the leading candidates for that third place and they are "still in the driving seat", according to a report on the club's official Web site.
"We will see at the end of the season [whether Saturday was a missed opportunity]," said the Frenchman, adding, "We are still in the driving seat, no matter what happens. It will depend on the results we make now. We have difficult games - we go to Stoke, to West Brom, not easy places, and we play Norwich at home. At least two of the next three we need to win."
Meanwhile, the club's Belgian centre-back, Thomas Vermaelen, feels the season is set for an "interesting" finish. However, he too, quoted in another report on Arsenal.com, believes the club is more than capable of securing automatic qualification for next season's Champions League.
"It will be a big effort for everybody to get that third place," said the defender, "It is not going to be easy but that is because you play in England and it is not an easy league. Everybody can beat everybody. It is going to be hard to keep third place but I am confident that we will. Of course [it is going to be interesting] because there are a lot of teams involved; ourselves, Tottenham, Chelsea and Newcastle. It is going to be tight but it is going to be interesting."
In other Arsenal news, there could be some respite from injuries, at this crucial stage, for Wenger, with confirmation that French midfielder Abou Diaby is now fully fit to play. The international came off the bench during the Gunners' game against Chelsea and put in a good shift against the Blues. Wenger is, at the moment, battling injury concerns for central midfielders Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta; the loss of the latter two, in addition to the absence of Diaby, meant Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky were being worked harder than perhaps idea.
"I hope Diaby can play a significant role," said Wenger, "I am a bit cautious because he just played 25 minutes but in the last three games I hope he can help us, yes."
Arsenal will next play Stoke City, away, on 28 April. Their remaining games for the season are a home game against Norwich City on 5 May and a trip to West Brom on 13 May.