Robin Van Persie insists Arsenal are on the right track in their long term plan for success despite the disappointment of having their hopes for silverware all but ended for another season by Tottenham on Wednesday night.
Arsenal have hung in against the odds to maintain a challenge for the Premier League title longer than expected this season but the 2-1 loss to bitter rivals Tottenham at White Hart Lane leaves them six points adrift of Chelsea with only four matches remaining.
Without success in the two domestic cups and eliminated from the Champions League by Barcelona, Arsenal are set to finish yet another season with adding their trophy cabinet, a drought that stretches back to 2005. Manager Arsene Wenger has come in for criticism for his reliance on youth and lack of signings to cover injured stars such as van Persie, who returned against Tottenham after a five-month lay-off.
But despite the lack of material gain in terms of silverware, van Persie believes Arsenal's extended participation in the title race this season is a key indicator of the team's progression this season.
"Definitely, if you look at last year, no-one really expected this," said Van Persie, who returned to action after a five-month injury lay-off as a second-half substitute in midweek. "But when you are this close you really want to win it. When you don't do that it is frustrating."
Van Persie said he was happy to finally get back on the pitch, but admitted his comeback would have been sweeter if he was able to turn the scoreline around in favour of Arsenal.
"It felt good and I am happy to be back. But when you are there and your team is behind you want to do something to help them. Unfortunately I could not do that.''
The defeat was compounded by Thomas Vermaelen sustaining a calf strain which could see the defender miss the rest of the season while Denilson is a doubt for the trip to Wigan on Sunday.
Wenger told Arsenal TV Online: "We have to assess Denilson a little bit. He has a tight groin. I don't think we lost anyone else from Wednesday night [apart from Vermaelen]. I have no more news about him. But it looks like three weeks and that means the season is over for him.''
However, there was better news about Van Persie as there does not appear to have been any adverse reaction following his return.
"He came back very well,'' Wenger added. "We have to check him and we see how he responds to that. It was a massive gamble as he had not played. But we'll see how he is and hopefully he'll get a few games now.''
Wenger introduced van Persie in the 68th minute and he made an immediate impact, inspiring his side forward but ultimately he was frustrated by Heurelho Gomes. Van Persie was thwarted by Spurs goalkeeper Gomes on more than one occasion when he chested down Abou Diaby's chip and volleyed goalwards before producing a perfectly-placed free-kick that looked destined for the top corner.