Defender Per Mertesacker feels Arsenal have answered their critics by closing in on Champions League qualification once again, but admits failings against the Barclays Premier League's top three killed off their title dream.
Arsene Wenger's side took a significant step towards securing a top-four finish with a 3-0 win over a lacklustre Newcastle side at the Emirates Stadium on Monday night, where fit-again record signing Mesut Ozil scored one and created another.
Arsenal are now four points clear of Everton with just two games to go, with the Toffees having been beaten by Southampton at the weekend.
The Gunners will be guaranteed a place in the Champions League qualifiers for the 17th consecutive season should Everton come unstuck again when they tackle Manchester City on Saturday, or Arsenal beat West Brom 24 hours later before attentions turn to ending the club's trophy drought in the FA Cup final against Hull at Wembley.
As positive an ending as the campaign may yet bring, Mertesacker cannot help but reflect on what might have been, with Arsenal at one stage seven points clear of current leaders Liverpool at the top of the table before paying a heavy price for a series of poor results against their direct rivals.
"We have struggled heavily with a couple of injuries, but we have regrouped very well and how we managed the situation was maybe more important than last year, so securing Champions League football was another test for us," he said.
"It is not done yet, Everton play Manchester City on Saturday, but we have it in our own hands.
"However, everyone wanted us to get further up, especially the fans, and we were top of the table for a long time.
"Everyone dreamed about the title, but it takes more than staying top until the winter period.
"We could not afford those (losses) in big games against big teams, so we did not deserve to be in the first three. That is something we have to manage much better next year.
"The (defeats in the) early away games (at Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea) killed us this year. Hopefully we can learn from that.
"Everyone questioned our qualities, but how we came back as a team, that makes us stronger for the future."
Mertesacker added: "We are in a cup final and it is important to secure Champions League football, so these are good targets to go for.
"We are happy to have a lot of players back. The squad is getting stronger and stronger."
Arsenal transfer talk: Potential summer targets
Arsenal transfer talk: Potential summer targets
1/14 Sami Khedira
The World Cup winner looks to be heading to the Emirates if the reports are to be believed, as the Real Madrid midfielder looks set for a £26m switch to the Gunners. Having turned down a new contract and just a year remaining on his current deal, Khedira could soon be Arsenal's latest big-name signing.
2/14 Douglas Costa
Costa is one of six Brazilian players refusing to return to Shaktar Donetsk due to the increasing political unrest in Ukraine. Arsene Wenger is reported to be interested in the 23-year-old, with the Gunners reported to be preparing a move for the attacking midfielder.
3/14 Morgan Schneiderlin
Schneiderlin is a transfer target for the Gunners' fierce rivals Tottenham, but Arsenal are reported to have held talks with the 25-year-old Frenchman over a move that would see him snub Spurs. The midfielder would fill the defensive role that Arsenal are currently lacking.
4/14 John Ruddy
The Norwich goalkeeper would be a shock signing for Arsenal, but rumours have linked the England stopper with a move. Arsenal do need another goalkeeper to replace Lukasz Fabianski, but it is worth noting that Ruddy was part of a side that were relegated last season and conceded the third highest number of goals. The arrival of David Ospina has made it even less likely.
5/14 Iker Casillas
Another goalkeeper linked with Arsenal this summer is Real Madrid stopper Casillas. He's not been the favourite at the Bernabeu for a couple of seasons now and his disastrous World Cup has led to speculation he could move on. Again, the arrival of Ospina makes Arsenal's need for him not so desperate, but Wenger may not want to pass up the chance to sign such an experienced keeper.
6/14 Michy Batshuayi
The Standard Liege star has already stated that he expects to leave at the end of the season, preferring to move to either England or Germany and recently admitting that Arsenal are his favourite team. The 20-year-old striker is the top scorer in the Belgian league this season. Batshuayi can also operate on the wing and has been linked with Everton and Napoli. Arsenal are said to be willing to pay his release clause, which is understood to be £6.5m.
7/14 Javi Martinez
Arsenal are believed to be one of a number of clubs looking at Bayern Munich defender/midfielder Martinez should he become available in the summer. He would not come cheaply though, given the Bavarian club activated his €40m release fee to sign him in 2012.
8/14 Julian Draxler
A move during the January transfer window failed to materialise over Draxler's £37m release clause with Arsenal unwilling to pay the hefty fee, according to Schalke's sporting director. The German international was also said to be a target for Bayern Munich in case Toni Kroos failed to sign a new deal with the Bundesliga champions. However, chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has ruled out a summer move for the highly-rated 20-year-old. Arsenal will have to change their stance over the transfer fee to acquire the attacker with several big clubs interested.
With Bacary Sagna confirming he will leave at the end of the season, Arsenal look short in the right-back department. A reported £9m move for Atletico Madrid defender Juanfran was rejected, but the Gunners could return for his services should they up their bid.
10/14 Josip Drmic
Arsenal have been linked with the Nurnberg striker recently after Lothar Matthaus claimed on Sky Germany that the Gunners had already signed the 21-year-old. Wenger is said to be keen to bring in the Swiss striker before the World Cup this summer. Drmic is a wanted man after scoring 16 goals in the Bundesliga this season despite his club battling against relegation. Drmic, who has three-years left on his current deal, is reported to have a release clause of less than £5m. Only Bayern Munich star Mario Mandzukic, Borussia Dortmund's Robert Lewandowski and Hertha Berlin striker Adrian Ramos have scored more league goals than Drmic this season.
11/14 Sebastian Jung
Eintracht Frankfurt defender Jung has been monitored by Arsenal this season. The 23-year-old has been one of their best players this season as the Bundesliga side recovered from a bad start to move clear of the relegation battle once they were eliminated from the Europa League. The German could be available for a fee in the region of £2m but the Gunners may face competition from Wolfsburg.
12/14 Atsuto Uchida
Uchida will travel to Brazil for the World Cup as part of Japan's national team, but the Schalke defender could see himself become the subject of interest from Arsenal as they seek a replacement for Bacary Sagna.
13/14 Salomon Kalou
The former Chelsea forward, currently at Lille in France, is interested in a return to the Premier League. To the dismay of Arsenal fans the Ivory Coast international has been linked once again to a move to the Emirates. Kalou could be available for a fee in the region of £2.5m this summer despite still having two years remaining on his current deal at the Ligue 1 side.
14/14 Juan Quintero
Having impressed at the World Cup, Quintero could be on the move just 12 months after joining Porto. Arsenal have been linked with a £15.8m bid for the Colombia midfielder who impressed at the World Cup.
Arsenal midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain missed the Newcastle match because of a groin complaint which although not serious will leave the England man touch-and-go for the FA Cup final.
Newcastle, meanwhile, will head back to the north-east looking to regroup following what was a sixth straight defeat which has left their place in the top 10 now under serious threat.
Alan Pardew, who returned to the dugout following a lengthy touchline ban, accepts the supporters have a right to voice concerns following a miserable run of just 13 points from 17 league games since the turn of the year - with many of the 2,000-strong Toon Army calling for the manager's head during Monday's night's latest feeble offering.
Midfielder Dan Gosling said: "Having the manager there on the touchline again was a great help, but ultimately it is the players who cross the white line who have to do the job, and again at Arsenal, we did not do that.
"We have lost some games where we should not have, but we can't just keep saying that.
"We are disappointed, but we will go again now on Saturday and have a cup final against Cardiff.
"The fans have always been tremendous and we get a great travelling army, and at home we will need them now more than ever to push us over the line."
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