Premier League Top Four: Who Has The Easier Run In - Manchester United, Spurs, Chelsea or Arsenal?
It’s incredible to think that just 17 days ago, Tottenham were revelling in a 10-point lead over Arsenal. In the wake of the Gunners’ 2-0 win over Manchester United on Sunday, it’s down to just a single point.
Even if the gulf between the top six and the rest of the Premier League looks wider than ever this season, there’s very little separating Spurs, Arsenal, United, and Chelsea as the race for the Champions League hots up.
3rd – Tottenham – 61pts (+25GD)
4th – Arsenal – 60pts (+24GD)
5th – Manchester United – 58pts (+18GD)
6th – Chelsea – 57pts (+19GD)
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer suffered his first league defeat at the Emirates, a result which leaves United playing catch-up against an Arsenal outfit who were long considered out of the running.
It does beg the question of who can be considered favourites to make the top four.
Still to play: Liverpool (A), Brighton (H), Huddersfield (H), Crystal Palace (H), Manchester City (A), West Ham (H), Bournemouth (A), Everton (H)
Likely points: 16
It comes as no surprise that Spurs are 17th in the form table, having lost three of their last four games. Mauricio Pochettino launched another attack on their mentality following Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Southampton, the Lilywhites having cruised in the first half and completely switched off in the second.
They may have a reputation for choking at this stage of the campaign, but the north Londoners picked up a respectable 16 points from their last eight games last term. The difficulty is that they have away trips to Liverpool and Manchester City and have picked up just seven points from a possible 24 against the rest of the top six all season.
Next month, they should receive a major boost as the new stadium is finally set to open, but they will also have a Champions League quarter-final to contend with. Though there are no long-term absentees, a number of players are intermittently picking up knocks and signs of fatigue have been showing for a long time.
Still to play: Newcastle (H), Everton (A), Watford (A), Crystal Palace (H), Leicester (A), Brighton (H), Burnley (A)
Likely points: 16
The Gunners appear to be hitting form just at the right time, winning four of their last five in the league. They will have to continue that form without Lucas Torreira, who has another two games left on his suspension, while Hector Bellerin and Danny Welbeck are both out for the season.
On a positive note, they no longer have to play any of the top six. The major concern for Unai Emery will be his side’s away record. They’ve won just five of their 14 away games so far and have dropped seven points against teams in the bottom half.
Exiting the Europa League could be a positive in terms of workload, and it looks a fairly likely outcome after the 3-1 reverse in Rennes. At the same stage last season, Arsenal went on to pick up 15 points from Arsene Wenger’s final eight games in charge.
Still to play: Watford (H), Wolves (A), West Ham (H), Everton (A), Manchester City (H), Chelsea (H), Huddersfield (A), Cardiff (H)
Likely points: 17
Solskjaer may be all but guaranteed a crack at the job long-term, but he will need to consolidate his claim between now and May as United juggle the league, FA Cup, and Champions League.
Their interim boss has navigated their injury crisis superbly and it is easing somewhat, with Anthony Martial and Ander Herrera fit again. Jesse Lingard, Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, Juan Mata and Alexis Sanchez are still sidelined.
Jose Mourinho took 16 points from his final eight games last season, but United do have tough tests against City and Chelsea. If United were to carry on the trajectory from Solskjaer’s first three months in charge, they will be confident of qualifying regardless.
Still to play: Everton (A), Cardiff (A), West Ham (H), Liverpool (A), Burnley (H), Manchester United (A), Watford (H), Leicester (A)
Likely points: 17
Sarri’s side have to be considered outsiders. It’s been another season of transition – which was necessary, but which has still not been welcomed universally – and they still have a game in hand because of their participation in the Carabao Cup final.
Last term, they only earned 14 points from eight games as Antonio Conte’s reign fizzled out and even if they have improved of late, they still look fairly pedestrian and are opened up far too easily.
While they look set to progress in the Europa League, they have the rare blessing of a fully-fit squad which Sarri will need to utilise to full effect if they’re to make a late charge.