The Race for Fourth: Arsenal Still in the Running?
With Manchester United now the runaway leaders at the head of the Premier League as they currently hold a 12-point lead over Manchester City and could foreseeably drop more points at home to Chelsea this weekend, the excitement in the run-in is more likely to come from the race for fourth position.
Fourth place in the Premier League is of course the last Champions League place for English sides and with the financial rewards and quality that the tournament provides it is the most important prize in English football.
Arsenal have not finished outside the top 4 since 1996 and although they have left it last in many of the last few season’s they have always secured Champions League football but with Tottenham looking fairly strong and Everton and Liverpool breathing down their necks, Arsene Wenger has a real job on his hand to salvage his long-standing record. If Arsenal were to finish outside the Champions league spots it is difficult to see Arsene Wenger surviving the summer still in the job as Arsenal’s consistency in finishing in the top 4 is the only think that counteracts his sides lack of trophies. Yet again Arsenal are set to go another season without a trophy and the disappointing thing this year for the Gunners is the way they have been knocked out of the various competitions. They lost to Bradford City of League 2 on penalties in the Capital One Cup quarter-finals and then last weekend went down to Blackburn of the Championship at home in the FA Cup 5th round. That loss was compounded with Arsenal’s 3-1 loss at home to Bayern Munich in the first leg of their round of 16 tie in the Champions League which effectively puts them out of the competition.
In the Premier League Arsenal currently stand 4 points behind Tottenham and 5 behind Chelsea as they look to close in on fourth place. What will quite possibly happen is that as Manchester United get further and further away from the rest this season, Manchester City will drop back as Chelsea, Tottenham and the rest close in. That is not to say that City will struggle to make the top 4 but one of Chelsea or Tottenham could foreseeable overtake Roberto Mancini’s side in the run in.
If we leave City out of it for the moment, Chelsea have still to every team in the top 7 bar Arsenal in their final 12 matches and must travel to both Manchester sides. What will also work against Chelsea is the fact that they are still involved in the FA Cup and Europa League, being a round behind the rest in the FA Cup due to commitments over Christmas means they could be playing midweek for the next month at least as they are almost sure to reach the next round of the Europa League. Chelsea should be good enough to finish in the top 4 but with two of their last three games against Everton and United they will not want to leave it late to secure a top-4 finish.
Tottenham are currently just a point behind Chelsea and 4 ahead of north-London rivals Arsenal but have become increasingly reliant on Gareth Bale especially since Jermaine Defoe picked up an injury a couple of weeks ago. Tottenham have now gone 10-matches in the Premier League unbeaten and look odd-on to pip Arsenal to 4th place at the moment however their d-day will come on 3rd March when they face Arsenal at White Hart Lane. Tottenham have a fairly easy run-in but their fourth-place aspirations will come down to April’s run of matches against Everton, Chelsea and Manchester City in successive weeks.
Arsenal now have just the Premier League to focus on and that could actually work in their advantage as they attempt to steal fourth place off Tottenham. Arsenal have the easiest run-in out of any of the clubs in the top 7 and after successive matches against Tottenham and Everton at the start of March they only have Man Utd left and play all three of the bottom 4 in the last month and half, to bet on the race for fourth take a look at the latest Premier League odds.
Everton are still in with a realistic chance although they have slipped off the pace slightly since Christmas. Everton are 6-points behind Tottenham at the moment as they have only managed 2 wins from their last 6 matches. With their recent run of form and fixtures against Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool still to come, Everton may be better suited to focusing their attention to the FA Cup in which they have a 5th round replay against Oldham and should they get through that they have avoided Chelsea and both Manchester Clubs in the last 8.
Although they are currently in a worse off position than their London rivals, Arsenal could easily pinch 4th place once more from Tottenham and this season they may not need the help of some food poisoning on the last day of the season. As long as Arsenal do not lose at Tottenham on 3rd March their easier run in should be the deciding factor in Arsene Wenger keeping his job by guaranteeing a Champions League spot once again.
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