We are entering the final stages of the Premier League season and the race for 4th position is beginning to heat up.
The stakes are high with Champions League qualification up for grabs. Not only that, being in the Champions League allows clubs to attract the highest quality players. Something that will matter to the likes of Manchester United who are looking for a complete rebuild in the summer.
Only a few weeks ago Arsenal were clear favourites to run away with the much-desired spot but with some tough fixtures not going their way, a rampant Tottenham Hotspur have come from the blue to leapfrog the gunners and put the other competitors on their toes.
With early favourites Manchester United and West Ham United faltering- but not out of the running- I’ll take a look at how the race for that final UEFA Champions League allocation is shaping up.
If you had offered Arsenal their current position after a wretched start to the season, I’m sure Mikel Arteta would have bitten your hand off. But that doesn’t mean that things are looking up for the Spaniard’s side.
Despite a mid-season revival that saw Arsenal at one point clear favourites for the top four, fans of the club will be disappointed with the position they now find themselves in.
A surprise 3-0 defeat at the hands of Crystal Palace meant that the Gunners fell behind their adversary Spurs and now find themselves 5th position in the table.
Arsenal then followed that up with a 2-1 defeat to Brighton, conceding any advantage they had over their North London rivals. At one point Arsenal could boast a three-point advantage with three games in hand over- this is now a forgotten memory.
It was never going to be easy for the Gunners but they have clear problems in the side that are rearing their ugly head at the worst time. Quite simply, Arteta’s men cannot score enough goals.
Failure to sign a striker in the summer meant that a floundering Alexandre Lacazette was the club’s main threat up top in their pursuit of Champions League football. Not a position any club wants to be in.
As good as the Frenchman can be at times, he is simply not at the level of Harry Kane or Cristiano Ronaldo who- despite having poor seasons by their standards- have both massively out scored Lacazette this season.
It has been a rollercoaster ride for Spurs this season with Italian supremo Antonio Conte at the helm. The club have seriously struggled to put a string of wins together and have suffered the most from inconsistency out of any side in the top four run in.
Despite this, Spurs currently sit in that illustrious fourth position, three points clear although having played a game extra than rivals Arsenal.
Tottenham is also enjoying the typical end of season form from star player Harry Kane. The England striker is known for coming on strong towards the end of footballing year and this time round has been no different.
Spurs’ talisman has been in electric form of late with six goals and six assists in his last seven Premier League appearances. This form has drastically improved a stuttering Tottenham side who have now won six of their previous eight matches- including that stunning victory over league-leaders Manchester City.
This end of season form has left them with a mouthwatering fixture as the season comes to a close. Matchday 36 will see Spurs host Arsenal in what could end up being the deciding game.
With Tottenham coming on strong and the teams around them falling away, it seems like everything is starting to fall into place for Conte’s boys. History has shown us, however, that if any team take an advantage for granted, it’s Spurs.
West Ham United
The Hammers have done exceptionally well to find themselves in this conversation so late in the season, but one suspects they are the least likely team in it to make the top four.
David Moyes’s men enjoyed a fantastic first half of the season with striker Michael Antonio rediscovering his best form after a few middling seasons at the Hammers.
Midfielders Declan Rice and Tomáš Souček were arguably the best midfield pairing in the league and attacker Jared Bowen was- and still is- in the form of his life.
Unfortunately for West Ham, a quiet January window has really slowed their momentum, which has led to a poor second half of the season.
The fixture list has not been kind to the Hammers either, with games against Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, and survival-fighting Norwich and Burnley remaining. That means all their remaining games are going to be against sides who have everything to play for.
Whether it be a title, top four or survival. The future looks bright for West Ham, but fans will feel that this season might be a missed opportunity when you look at the inconsistency of the teams around them.
They still have a chance and West Ham will not yet be giving up on bringing Champions League football to the London Stadium for the first time.
At this point, it would be a surprise if Manchester United finished in the top four this season and that is an indictment of everyone involved in managing that club.
It is simply inexcusable for a club of that stature with the highest wage bill in the division to be currently sitting in 7th position as we approach the end of the season.
United currently have four of the five highest-paid players in the division and looks on course to secure an upper mid-table finish and line up next season in the Europa Conference League.
It will take something special for the Red Devils to overtake the London clubs and reach the Champions League spots this season. Luckily for Manchester United, their squad is bursting with special footballers.
The club boasts the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo- one of the highest-scoring players in the history of the sport and arguably some of the best players in the world in their positions in David De Gea, Bruno Fernandes and Raphaël Varane.
With the sides ahead of them being so inconsistent, United have stumbled to within six points of 4th position having played a game more than favourites Arsenal.
With such a talented squad, this side should be able to turn the tide on a disappointing season- but you’d be hard-pressed to find many that would back them to do so.
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