Stakes high in race for fourth

Chelsea, thanks to a fortuitous win over Wigan, narrowed the gap on Tottenham, who drew at Sunderland, whilst Newcastle beat Swansea. Then Tottenham’s shock defeat to Norwich allowed Newcastle to draw level on points. Chelsea’s luck eventually ran out as they drew at Fulham, 1-1, whilst in the middle of all of this, Arsenal continued their winning ways with an important victory over Manchester City.

Arsenal are now two points clear of the melee in fourth, which Tottenham still occupy, just, from Newcastle and Chelsea. Victory at Wolves tonight and Wigan on Saturday could in theory lift them seven points clear of their rivals before any of them play again. But that is hypothetical. The intrigue lies in the respective needs of all the teams, and how missing out on fourth would affect them. For Tottenham it would be a combination of two main things. One is pride, having been so impressive for much of the season, and so far ahead of Arsenal and Chelsea, it would be a huge blow to their pride to finish below both this season. But then it would also potentially cost them their big name players. Emmanuel Adebayor is probably leaving anyway, but so might Luka Modric and Gareth Bale if they don’t make it into Europe’s elite competition.

For Arsenal, failure to make it would be a blow to Arsene Wenger more than the club. Though they haven’t won a trophy for seven years, consistent qualification for the Champions League helps mitigate against that. As Liverpool have shown this year, winning a trophy and missing out on Europe’s elite competition is not as good as not winning a trophy but competing with Europe’s best .

Arsenal would also have a reduced transfer budget if they miss out, and potentially lose big players, but financially they would be fine.

The big loser, really, would be Chelsea, if they don’t make it into the Champions League. This is a team who post huge losses every year, and are financially a basket case, unlike their London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham. With an ageing squad, no permanent manager and the UEFA Financial Fair Play rules which will prevent Roman Abramovich simply buying a new squad, they will be massively hit by failure to make it into Europe’s top club competition. It is difficult to foresee precisely how badly they will be hit, but it goes without saying that it would be a hefty blow. A hefty, major blow that Chelsea would take some time to recover from.

That is the difference between them, and their three rivals. Arsenal Tottenham and Newcastle would continue fine. They would come back, possibly stronger next year, with an improved chance of fourth. The opposite can be said of Chelsea. They would come back weaker, confused, financially messed up, and staggering into financial oblivion. The stakes are so much higher for this team than their rivals – they dare not fail to finish fourth.