The battle for fourth – can Arsenal cement their place in the Champions League?
As we reach the business end of the Premier League season, not only is there a battle for the title and a fight for relegation, but the race for fourth place is as exciting as it has been in years. In terms of Premier League winner odds, Manchester City are favourites; while the bookies make the Gunners second favourites to finish in the top four. After the disappointment of the last two seasons, finishing fifth and six respectively, can this season be the one that takes Arsenal back to the elite of European football, where they potentially belong?
On paper, it’s fair to say that out of the four teams battling for the final two Champions League places, Arsenal have the best run-in. With the majority of their opponents perched in midtable with seemingly nothing to play for, it should be a smooth finish to manager Unai Emery’s first season in English football. By the time the likes of Crystal Palace and Brighton visit the Emirates Stadium, their fate (or safety) may be sealed and similarly, the final game against Burnley shouldn’t prove a tricky test – unless the Clarets take their relegation battle down to the wire. Out of the remaining fixtures, surprise package Wolves pose the biggest threat and their home form is marginally better than the Gunners’ away form – but should Arsenal really be threatened by them?
Spu*rs face two of the big six in their run-in and those games could prove crucial not only in the race for fourth, but for the winner of this season’s Premier League title. They face Liverpool at Anfield and City at the Etihad Stadium. And let’s not forget that they face the current champions three times in 11 days and that could define their season.
United face City and Chelsea in consecutive games towards the end of April. Their final two games are against Huddersfield Town who are effectively already gone and relegation-threatened Cardiff City (who may still be playing for survival at that point).
Meanwhile Chelsea are yet to visit Anfield and Old Trafford this season, with both games being played next month. Those two games aside, their run-in is fairly easy too. However, it all boils down to who will be on top in those top six clashes.
However, when you look at the form of the teams in the battle for fourth, Arsenal are on top, with four wins and a draw. Assuming that form continues, the Gunners will give themselves every chance of making the top four. The Red Devils sit two points behind with three wins, a draw and defeat from their last five games; Chelsea meanwhile have two wins, two losses and a draw and are a further point behind; and Sp*rs have crumbled in recent weeks, closing the gap between third and fourth to a single point with their form the worst (three losses from their last five games). In fact, there are only three other teams in worst form and two of those are in the drop-zone (Fulham and Huddersfield).
Top four finish v Europa League win
As soon as the draw was announced, it’s fair to say that Arsenal’s hopes of Champions League football rested upon a top four finish, as opposed to automatic qualification by winning the Europa League. Out of the seven opponents left in the competition, Napoli were by far the least wanted club. The two sides last met in the Champions League group stages in 2013-14 and it’s one win a-piece, with Arsenal winning 2-0 at the Emirates and Napoli winning 2-0 at the Stadio San Paolo. But it’s fair to say, out of the two scenarios, a top four finish seems the more likely.
Can Arsenal cement their place in the Champions League? Yes, they can!
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