There’s eight fixtures left in the Premier League and, while the title is more than decided in Manchester United’s favour, the race for fourth place promises a thrilling end to the season, with Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal fighting it out for the two places the Mancunian teams will leave among the top-four. Benitez, Wenger and Villas-Boas’ sides remain confident to achieve the goal, but one of them will fail in their aspirations.
Missing out on Champions League football next season will be a failure for any of the three teams given their current circumstances, but for which one of them would fifth place mean the biggest loss?
We have seen almost everything in football and, of course, there is still a chance that Roberto Mancini’s squad could see their Champions League dreams vanish, but that would be such a shock that no one would argue they are the team that have more to lose. Taking City out of the equation, then, which one of the remaining trio could face the biggest disaster?
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The current table sees Arsenal in fifth place, but taking a look at the remaining fixtures, Wenger’s boys should be the ones obtaining most points out of the games left to be played. The Emirates still has to host the leaders, United, and Europa League-pursuers, Everton, but home wins are a must at this stage. Besides, Alex Ferguson’s side could already visit the Gunners as league champions – a scenario that could tip the balance in The Gunners’ favour.
Victories against mid-table teams – West Brom and Fulham – are also an obligation, and the clashes against bottom-three teams – Wigan and QPR – at the end of the season could be the real threat should those squads still hold any hopes of survival in the Premier League.
Chelsea and Tottenham have a more complicated calendar ahead, starting by a crunch game between each other at Stamford Bridge that could have a decisive influence on the final outcome. Apart from that, the Blues will have to visit the always complicated grounds of Anfield and Old Trafford, while Spurs will have to make the most of the visits from Everton and City to White Hart Lane.
Arsenal are the team with the least amount of points at the moment, but a relatively favourable calendar should neutralise that gap and give the Gunners certain advantage to finish among the top-four, and the fact that the squad is out of every other competition should somehow be reflected in the final amount of points they gain during the final stretch. Tottenham and Chelsea are still alive in the Europa League, and the Blues have to add in The FA Cup semi-final – at least – to their busy schedule.
Looking at the consequences of failing to reach the Champions League, the ability to secure signings in order to be competitive in the next season could considerably affect the three clubs. Chelsea are aiming to sign big names this summer, with Radamel Falcao as the main target, but the Colombian might not see Stamford Bridge as an attractive destiny if the current champions fail to qualify for Europe. Also, managerial target Jose Mourinho would surely not feel quite like The Special One if he had to play in the Europa League next season.
Spurs’ main concern on that front will be keeping Gareth Bale in the squad. With the flying winger being tracked by Real Madrid and other European giants, Champions League football will be needed to retain the Welshman at White Hart Lane. Even if the club received an irresistible offer for the 21-year-old, a top-four finish will be crucial to luring stars like Gonzalo Higuain to N17.
Arsenal, for its part, seem determined to strengthen the squad by taking the cheque book out and proceeding to make a big investment while keeping a number of key players. However, the doors to big signings could close should the Champions League anthem not sound through The Emirates’ speakers next season.
Beyond signing prospects and the financial wealth that top European football brings, every fan will surely find reasons to think their team need to qualify for the Champions League more than any other. For Arsenal fans, failing to do so after fifteen consecutive seasons would be a major disaster, and the section of fans against Wenger would increase considerably. Chelsea supporters would probably wonder once again why Di Matteo was sacked with the team in third place to end up the season fifth, while the Spurs crowd would be gutted to see the fall of a team that have delivered the best football in years, at the time they ask themselves what else is needed to finish above Arsenal for once since 1995?
From a neutral perspective we could arguably say Chelsea are the team with more to lose. They are the reigning champions in Europe, their transfer aspirations could badly be reduced by the top-four failure, and the fact that it happened after sacking a manager idolised by the fans in the middle of the season could turn the fans’ anger towards the highest echelons of the club.
Arsenal and Tottenham fans will surely disagree, as drama is always more potent when it hits you closely, but for now, let’s leave the debate open, enjoy the end of the season and leave the tears – of joy and sorrow – for May 19th.
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