At present, the pinnacle of the Premier League table is divided into two categories. The first category consists of three teams which are in contention for the title, Manchester City, Liverpool and Spurs. The second category consists of those who are battling it out for 4th place.
This battle for the final Champions League spot will be an entirely different battle altogether. Chelsea’s fine start under Maurizio Sarri, seemed to put them in driving position to seal the fourth spot.
However, they suffered an unexpected 1-0 defeat to Leicester in December, a 2-0 defeat to Arsenal in January and a humiliating 4-0 loss to Bournemouth. The defeat to Arsenal saw Sarri heavily criticise his players for their application and motivation, which may or may not have opened up a rift with the militant dressing room at Stamford Bridge.
Many a Chelsea manager has been subjected to the wrath of the players and this normally results in their dismissal. One fears for Sarri at the end of the season. If anything, it may just be a blip but the 6-0 mauling at the hands of Manchester City did nothing to suggest that they will recover the 4th place spot.
Arsenal, under Unai Emery, lost their opening two matches to Manchester City and Chelsea before going in a 22-match unbeaten run and the push for a top-four place looked good. Suddenly, at a crucial juncture, their form has become indifferent and the added burden of injuries, in key positions, has made every game a lottery.
A 1-0 loss to West Ham exposed their frailties, which are not only in defence. They have also shown a lack of creativity, not normally associated with Arsenal and they have struggled ever since. The 4-2 win over Spurs at the Emirates was thought to be the launch pad but the Gunners have failed to replicate that intensity.
The Gunners have lacked the creativity and service, while Chelsea’s lack of firepower in the attack has seen them struggle. The Emirates club have an impressive attack in Aubameyang and Lacazette but minus Ozil and Mkhitaryan, opportunities have been few.
Chelsea even had to push Hazard into the role of a striker in place of the misfiring Alvaro Morata, but that too didn’t work out. Realising that this could cost them dearly, Chelsea drafted in Gonzalo Higuain on loan and this may hold the key to any ambition they may have regarding the Champions league.
The re-emergence of Manchester United, who failed so miserably under Jose Mourinho, is now adding extra spice to this particular scramble. Ole Gunner Solskjaer’s side have been on a run of fine form, which has put Chelsea and Arsenal on high alert and if both the London clubs continue to come up short, the climax to the season will see a disappointing end for both.
Out of the three contenders, Manchester United looked to be the most likely to miss out under the ‘Special One’. However, since Solskjaer’s arrival, everything has suddenly clicked and they appear a completely different side.
The morale has soared and key players are once again beginning to find form and the net.
These include Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku. Since United lost to Liverpool in December, they have won 10 out of their last 11 games. These have included a 1-0 win over Spurs and the 3-1 win over Arsenal in the 4th round of the FA Cup.
They’ve scored 28 goals in those matches and if United maintain this sort of form, they will seal 4th place but anything can happen and surprises are always a possibility. Of course, Arsenal and Chelsea still have a chance in the Europa league but one mistake could cost them dearly.
A 4th place finish in the Premier League is worth £30m plus and in this respect, Spurs manager, Mauricio Pochettino has a point when he says that finishing in the top four is more important than winning a trophy. Unless that trophy happens to be the Premier League.
The team that wins the Europa League final, winning every group stage game in the process, can earn a maximum of €15.7m. Compare that to the Champions League, where the winners earn four times as much.
In Arsenal’s case, it’s all about the finances and failure to secure either of those first two opportunities will again impact the funds for summer transfers.
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