Top four race set for thrilling conclusion
Published: 02.05.13 / Written by: David Gold
With one flick of his head, Luis Suarez dented Chelsea’s hopes of a top four finish.
2-2 the game finished between Liverpool and Chelsea last weekend, a hammer blow for the visitors. Suarez had of course just been involved in the controversy of the season with his attempt to feed himself on the hairy arm of Branislav Ivanovic, but it may be that last contribution he is likely to make to the Premier League this season which is the most telling. North London would have been united for once with Arsenal and Tottenham fans delighted with Suarez’s impact for the right reasons deep into stoppage time.
So the race looks like this. Arsenal have 63 points, Chelsea 62 and Tottenham 61. Arsenal have four games left. Chelsea and Tottenham both have five remaining. But their game in hand is against each other. And what that means is that this is a race where only two of the three can finish in the top four, but where all three have it in their own hands even at this very late stage of the season.
So how do they all shape up?
Arsenal have been in the best form, winning 8 of their last 10 in the league to catapult themselves into third place going into these crucial final weeks. But they have been workmanlike for much of the spell. During the run they have beaten Stoke and Sunderland 1-0, West Brom and Aston Villa 2-1 and Fulham 1-0. Norwich were overcome thanks to three late goals after trailing 1-0 going into the final ten minutes of their recent game. A feisty Everton could not be beaten and Arsenal were held 0-0. This is a team who are playing some good football but are not blowing teams away at the moment. They have built well onto the momentum of a huge 2-0 win against Bayern Munich in Germany and are hoping it will see them through. Games at home to Manchester United and Wigan, and away to QPR and Newcastle, could be favourable. Only Wigan are likely to have something to play for when Arsenal face them, and you’d fancy them to beat the Lancashire outfit. But then the Gunners never make things easy for themselves.
Chelsea in fourth place have been the favourites among many for a top four finish for a while now. They have stuttered though after a fast start to the season. So many points have been dropped from winning positions, with 2-0 leads given away against Southampton and Reading. Leads have also been squandered against Liverpool and Newcastle. Chelsea have looked poor in defeat against Manchester City, QPR and Southampton. This is a team who have struggled in the difficult games this season. With Tottenham at home to come, a visit to Old Trafford and Manchester United, an away trip to Aston Villa and a home clash with Everton, Chelsea have some extremely tough games still on this season.
Tottenham in fifth will have renewed optimism after a recent wobble. Four points from four games and an exit from Europe had many fearing a usual end of season collapse but that has not materialised. Andre Villas Boas guided them to a huge 3-1 win over Manchester City that has restored confidence and belief. And of course Gareth Bale, back in the team after a short absence. It is his return which could be so crucial for Tottenham. They face Southampton, Stoke, Sunderland, Wigan and Chelsea in their final five games. You’d imagine four wins should be enough, and it is hard to see Tottenham not getting those from the fixtures available.
So there we have it. Tottenham, in fifth, actually look the best bet at present, with the most momentum and arguably the best fixture list. However it is a case of fine margins with Arsenal also enjoying a favourable end of season run. Chelsea are the side with the toughest run. Last season a similar top four race ended with Arsenal and Tottenham in third and fourth respectively and it would not shock to see them occupy those positions again, albeit the other way around this time. But Chelsea are nothing if not resilient and able to pull out something from the bag at unexpected moments. They cannot be written off just yet.