Arsene Wenger believes Arsenal's revival during the final months of the season has provided the perfect response to the criticism levelled at the manager and his players during the opening months of the campaign.
Having at one time appeared destined to finish outside the top four of the English Premier League and fail to qualify for next season's UEFA Champions League, Wenger's side now hold the advantage in their quarter-final with Villareal in this year's competition and face Chelsea this weekend in the FA Cup semi-final.
That marks a major transformation after a season that started slowly following the summer departures of Matthieu Flamini and Alexander Hleb and the apparent dressing room turmoil during the opening stages of the campaign that led to William Gallas being stripped of the captaincy.
Now Wenger's team go into the second leg clash on the back of a 1-1 first leg draw in Spain whilst having confirmed their steady improvement with an 18-game unbeaten Premier League run that has all but secured fourth spot.
The manager claims his young side has yet to receive the recognition they deserve for their upturn in fortunes and is convinced they are now attaining the maturity required to end the club's four-year trophy drought. "In the first 14 games we lost five and in the last 18 we lost none," he said. "That means the team has improved and that the team is on a good way.
"I believe in general this team has not got the credit it has deserved because they have behaved every day, the focus these players have shown since the beginning of the season has been fantastic," he went on. "The hunger they have shown every single day in training and the focus they have shown is great, so that's why we have improved a lot. So there is still a lot more to come, at 21, 22 you can only go upwards."
The perfect answer
Wenger has rejected the opportunity to use recent results to hit back at his critics of early season, instead claiming success is a vindication of the club's adherence to it's core principle of developing young talent and avoiding the temptation to spend vast sums in the transfer market.
"I feel we have gone for a policy in the club. I am in the public job and when those results are not there, people are entitled not to be happy and we have to accept that," said Wenger. "The most important thing is the club has a policy and keeps to that and is convinced of it and goes about it in a strongly determined way.
"At least we know where we go and I believe as well that although the club is in a very healthy position financially, structure wise, player wise and we have to be very positive."
And while he admits Arsenal have only a faint chance of forcing their way back into the title race, he insists his side will have a say in the final outcome.
"We have not given up yet this season," he said. "It is very unlikely we will win the Premier League this season. But we give absolutely everything in every game and we still have a chance to do it and to finish as close as possible to the top.
"We have big challenges in the Premier League when we play Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United," Wenger said. "If we don't win the league, at least we have a strong word in who else will win it and there is still a little chance to get back at Chelsea. We want to play like we have a good chance."