The race for the top-four in the Premier League has had to go on the backburner this weekend, with the FA Cup taking priority.
In the English top tier, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Manchester United, And Chelsea are currently embroiled in an almighty tussle for a Champions League qualification spot for the 2019/20 season.
After 30 games (Chelsea with one in hand), Arsenal have gone within one point of north London rivals Spurs, 61 to 60 points in the English top tier separating third and fourth. Just behind, Manchester United and Chelsea are sniffing around on 58 and 57 points, respectively.
This weekend, only Chelsea have a league fixture, with Manchester United taking on Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux hoping to get into the Semi-Finals of the FA Cup. The Blues are playing Everton on Sunday afternoon. This means that Arsenal’s league game against Wolves has been postponed, as has Spurs fixture. Spurs’ victors in the world’s oldest football competition Crystal Palace are facing Watford in the Quarter-Finals.
Arsenal and Chelsea may have a different route to qualification to feature in the premier European competition next year, thanks to their 18/19 success in the Europa.
Whilst Spurs or United will be allowed to try and retain the Champions League trophy next season should they win it at the Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid, at the beginning of June, Arsenal or Chelsea will gain entry upon winning the Europa League.
This incentive should be at the forefront of Arsenal and Chelsea managers Unai Emery and Maurizio Sarri’s minds as the top-four race bottlenecks with eight games left of the season by Sunday night.
The Europa League draw on Friday nicely allowed the two London sides to be separated all the way to the final, should they both proceed through the next two knockout rounds.
Sarri’ll be hoping his former side, Napoli, who he left at the end of last season to take the position at Stamford Bridge, will do him a favour and see off the Gunners, although it would leave the prospect of conflicting feelings for the Italian if the partenopei are the eventual opponents in Baku, Azerbaijan. Whereas Chelsea or Slavia Prague will face either Benfica or Eintracht Frankfurt, Villarreal or Valencia will be Napoli or Arsenal’s next opponents in the Semi-Finals.
Arsenal boss Unai Emery however has excellent pedigree in the competition, winning three back-to-back titles with former club Sevilla between 2014 and 2016. He has won 41 of his 71 matches in the competition, losing only 11; a close to 60% win percentage. The Spaniard could also face a former team in the last-four; Emery managed Valencia for four seasons between 2008 and 2012.
What is for certain, is that in five matches time, if Arsenal and Chelsea have indeed progressed to the Olympic Stadium, with the Champions League qualification at stake dependant on their form in the Premier League, we could be in for a brutally bruising bout between two English sides with two managers having everything to prove.
Things could get very tasty indeed come 29th May...