As the final international break of the season winds down, our focus is firmly on one thing: The race for the top four and, more importantly, the final UEFA Champions League spot that’s up for grabs. Manchester City and Liverpool are locked in a blood war over who will take home the Premier League title and will claim two of the spots. Chelsea are almost certainly in as it would take a monumental collapse for them to fall out of the top four.
That leaves fourth place, and there are potentially four clubs that can still grab that spot. One of them is our beloved Tottenham Hotspur, who currently sit in fifth place on 51 points which puts them three points behind Arsenal who have at least a match in hand on everyone else in the race. We knew it wouldn’t be easy given the turmoil Spurs have experienced this season and while the roller coaster may continue, the hope is that Antonio Conte can get this team to focus and rattle off some wins to put pressure on their north London rivals.
So what does the fixture list look like for each club remaining? First, here’s your table:
The Top Four As It Stands
I can already hear some of you going “WEST HAM!?! THEY’RE OUT OF IT!” and honestly, I probably agree with you. However, given the chaos of this season? I’m not ruling anything out, especially when just six points separate four clubs, even if there are a couple of matches in hand in some cases. That’s exactly why we’re going to break it down further with the remaining fixtures.
|SPURS||ARSENAL||MAN UTD||WEST HAM|
|SPURS||ARSENAL||MAN UTD||WEST HAM|
|at Villa||at Soton||at Everton||Everton|
|Brighton||at Chelsea||Norwich||at Brentford|
|at Brentford||Man Utd||at Liverpool||Burnley|
|Leicester||at West Ham||at Arsenal||at Chelsea|
|Burnley||at Newcastle||at Brighton||at Norwich|
|Arsenal||at Spurs||Chelsea||Man City|
|at Norwich||Everton||at Palace||at Brighton|
With 30 matches played and already six points out of fourth, West Ham’s best chance to qualify for Champions League is to win Europa League. Yes, the Hammers are still in the second-tier competition and have a date with Lyon over the next two weeks in the quarterfinals. Lyon aren’t exactly a well-oiled machine right now as they sit in 10th place in Ligue 1, which puts them in the same boat as West Ham: Champions League football is only possible with a Europa League trophy.
The problem for both is that the winner of this tie almost certainly get Barcelona, though they have to get past a feisty Eintracht Frankfurt side who aren’t pushovers. If West Ham’s Europa League campaign falls apart, they have three matches against current top four sides in Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City. Their prospects of beating everyone out for top four are pretty slim.
Next we have Manchester United, who may be more chaotic than Spurs at the moment. Ralf Rangnick joined the club after Ole Gunnar Solskjær was sacked on November 21. Since then the Red Devils have been all over the place. They’re 9-8-3 since he took over which isn’t bad, but at Manchester United? That’s bad enough where a new manager may be courted before season’s end. United’s schedule is similar to West Ham’s with three matches against current top four sides, including a trip to Anfield to play rival Liverpool. The rest of the fixtures are against sides sitting tenth or worse on the table, so if they can nick points in those big three matches, they can make it interesting going into the final week of the season, especially with no cup competitions remaining.
The Gunners are in the driver’s seat, and that’s really annoying. Since bowing out of the Carabao Cup, they’ve taken 19 of a possible 24 points with their only loss coming at the hands of Liverpool. Mikel Arteta has his team playing good football right now, and their next three fixtures could easily be victories. Chelsea and Manchester United just three days apart will help shape this race, and with the Blues still in Champions League and the FA Cup, there isn’t much time for them to rest. Arsenal can capitalize on this and effectively eliminated the Red Devils after that. Their match with Leeds still needs to be rescheduled, just like our fixture with them. Having a match in hand gives them a slight buffer, but any loss means the race tightens up quickly.
That brings us to Spurs. It has been an interesting season but it’s not all doom and gloom. Despite the ups and downs, Tottenham have taken 15 of the last 21 points in the league, including defeating Manchester City at Etihad Stadium. That loss to Burnley in the driving rainstorm certainly hurts, as does the 3-2 loss at Old Trafford.
All things considered, Spurs are in a pretty good spot! Newcastle have looked like garbage their last two matches and throttling them at home would be a nice way to kick off the rest of the schedule. The trip to Villa Park is a tricky one, though. They’ve lost their last two matches to Arsenal and West Ham, but scored nine goals in the three matches prior to that. Brighton and Brentford should be wins and Leicester is always a fun fixture.
The final run-in starts at Anfield, and while I’d love to see Spurs go up there and shock everyone, this is the one match on the list I’m chalking up as a loss. Liverpool are damn good and any point there is a bonus. Another match with Burnley, this time at the friendly confines of Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, will give Spurs a chance to avenge that loss at Turf Moor though Burnley may be fighting for their lives to fight off relegation. The final day at Norwich City is more or less dead rubber for the Canaries, who are more or less a lock for relegation. They’re bad and Spurs should put them out of their misery on the final day.
The question mark throughout all of this is that match with Arsenal. Originally, that match was supposed to be played on January 15. The Gunners pushed for a postponement due to COVID-19 but it sure seemed like injuries and sending players out on loan were their biggest problem. It’s irrelevant now as the Premier League granted them their postponement and now have the possibility of putting this match as a featured fixture right before the season’s over. Since Arsenal still have to reschedule their Leeds match, I’d be comfortable betting a large sum of money that Spurs-Arsenal will be scheduled for May 18, especially if it’s shaping up to be a deciding match for that last Champions League spot.
So what’s the expectation?
One guarantee is that we’re all going to experience a lot of pain and anxiety. Every match is a must-win to keep pace while hoping another club steps on a banana peel and bows out of the race. Truthfully, this is a three horse race as West Ham have to hope for a ton of chaos while being perfect, so I think we can effectively dismiss them. It’s all the more annoying that Spurs couldn’t get at least a point at Old Trafford a few weeks ago and cripple them in the process, but that’s football.
As it stands, fifth place goes to Europa League while sixth place heads to Conference League. The FA Cup currently features the top three Premier League sides and Crystal Palace. If any of the top three take home the FA Cup, sixth place gets Europa League while seventh place will head to Conference League. That seems likely to happen, which means barring a meltdown, Spurs can at least get into the second-tier competition.
Ultimately, I think Spurs can take this down to the wire. Arsenal are playing well, but I don’t think they’re infallible. They’ve also enjoyed a very healthy run for the last few months and one injury to a key player could screw up their flow. If Spurs and Arsenal win the matches they should and drop the ones they could, that head-to-head could see the clubs level on points with two matches to play.
That would be a level of anxiety in Spurs fandom we haven’t seen in some time.