When Arsenal and Manchester City step off the pitch on Sunday evening, there will be six games remaining in the Premier League for every team but Aston Villa and Bolton Wanderers, whose struggles are mostly inconsequential for the teams in the top six. Those six games could feature an 18-point swing in the gap between any two teams, meaning Tottenham Hotspur will still mathematically be in the title race if they don't lose ground to Manchester United this week.
Between those numbers and the fact that Arsenal lost to Queens Park Rangers last week, it seems hyperbolic to declare any of the league's races 'over' through 32 rounds. All of the top teams in the Premier League have lost games they should not have lost to bad teams and all of them have grabbed results they shouldn't have grabbed. Anything can happen, but we know enough about these teams to have some idea of what they're going to do for the rest of the season.
Saturday's game away to Sunderland is far and away the most difficult game remaining on Tottenham's schedule. The game Arsenal and Manchester City play against each other is either the hardest or second-hardest remaining game for either team, depending on who you ask. Meanwhile, it would be pretty shocking to see Manchester United drop points before the derby against City. We're close to having things all sorted out in the races for the title and Champions League places, and this could end up being the most decisive week of each top team's Premier League campaign.
Tottenham play Sunderland in the early morning (in the USA) game, which comes right after I work a 10 pm - 2 am shift. Thanks, Premier League! I'm glad we're bros. Tottenham are playing better football at the moment than they did at any point in the month of March, and if they play to the best of their abilities, they will beat Sunderland.
The problem for them is that almost no one seems to play to the best of their abilities at the Stadium of Light, where Sunderland have been fantastic since Martin O'Neill took over as manager. They defend well, keep their shape, counter quickly, use the wings very well, and they're competent on set pieces. They're everything that O'Neill's more expensive Aston Villa team was, and they're exactly that in about half a year.
But ... this is it for Spurs. Their last true challenge, or at least it should be. The only difficulty in any of their six remaining games after this one is simply a result of timing. They play Norwich on Monday, but they had little problem beating Norwich at Carrow Road. Additionally, Norwich have to play on Saturday as well, so they won't have any advantage. Only injuries, bad luck and/or a supreme lack of focus should prevent Tottenham from taking 18 points out of their last six games.
For their rivals, it's a different story. Not only do Arsenal play City this week, but they have to face Chelsea on April 21. They have trips to the Brittania Stadium and The Hawthornes remaining as well. It wouldn't be the least bit embarrassing for any team to drop points in one of those two fixtures.
Meanwhile, Chelsea are still in Champions League and have to play Tottenham in the FA Cup. They're going to have a couple of stretches where they have to play three games in under seven days. They have to go to Craven Cottage, Emirates Stadium and Anfield for away games, and they host Newcastle at home. There will be points dropped by Chelsea after this week, without question.
Unrelated to Spurs, United have a five-point lead on City in the title race. If City fail to defeat Arsenal this week, the Manchester Derby might be completely meaningless. The title race should be just about over if United finishes the week with a gap bigger than six points.
With all of that in mind, let's look at how the races shape up with all possible result combinations for City-Arsenal and Tottenham-Sunderland. I'm going to assume that United win in all of these scenarios.
Tottenham defeat Sunderland, Arsenal draw City
Suddenly, Spurs are very heavy favorites for third place and United are very heavy favorites for the title. It would take severe slip-ups by either to relinquish their positions.
Tottenham draw Sunderland, Arsenal draw City
City's position is the same, Tottenham are slight favorites for third due to Arsenal's more difficult remaining schedule.
Sunderland defeat Tottenham, Arsenal draw City
Based on Arsenal's remaining schedule, I'd call the two teams even money for third place if this happens.
Tottenham defeat Sunderland, Arsenal defeat City
City's title race is over. Tottenham very slight favorites for third, but this could be a massive morale boost for Arsenal that leads them to go on and defeat Chelsea, Stoke and West Brom as well.
Tottenham draw Sunderland, Arsenal defeat City
Arsenal become slight favorites for third.
Sunderland defeat Tottenham, Arsenal defeat City
The obvious disaster scenario. Arsenal are favorites for third place and will continue to be favorites for third place until they get passed in the table, which probably won't happen. We'll all be rooting for a big Chelsea win in a couple weeks if this goes down.
Tottenham defeat Sunderland, City defeat Arsenal
It goes without saying that this will send all of the Gooners into panic mode. They will declare that the race for third is over and Arsene Wenger should be fired.
Tottenham draw Sunderland, City defeat Arsenal
Or, the results that I expect this weekend, and results that would make us favorites to finish third at season's end.
Sunderland defeat Tottenham City defeat Arsenal
If this happens while both Chelsea and Newcastle win, we're going to have a wild finish to the season in both the title race and the race for third and fourth. People who are fans of none of Tottenham, Arsenal or Manchester United should be rooting for this scenario. It's going to produce the best football down the stretch.
All of the races could still be very much in doubt after this week, but there's also a very good chance that both could be over. If City and Arsenal draw while Tottenham and United win, you might as well hand third place to Spurs and the title to United. We're not dropping points in more than one of our final six games. We're not, dammit.