The chase is on for the top four
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has made the target clear: 12 Premier League points from a possible 15 to secure Champions League football next season.
He has loftier long-term aims, of course, but given the position when he took over as Reds boss in December, securing a top-four position come 12 May would be viewed as an impressive fightback.
Ole knows all about those from his playing days – but he’ll also be acutely aware that four into two doesn’t go and that a trio of London’s finest – Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur – are looking to ensure it’s them welcoming the elite of European club football to their ground next season.
Here’s how the race is shaping up and what lies ahead in the final furlong…
Tottenham Hotspur - 3rd (P33, 67 points)
Still to come:
20 April: Manchester City (A)
23 April: Brighton & Hove Albion (H)
27 April: West Ham United (H)
6 May: Bournemouth (A)
12 May: Everton (H)
Blowing hot, or blowing hard?
For so long nearly, but not quite the finished article, Spurs are capable of outstanding results, but often slip up when expected to win – their 10 league defeats are twice the tally suffered by the top two combined. Title contenders at Christmas, the first outing in their new home earlier this month, against Crystal Palace, was a first win in six.
New home, you say?
The long-awaited Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – which has its own microbrewery - is finally ready after a lengthy delay stalled its grand opening. More importantly, its 62,062 capacity outstrips Arsenal’s 60,260, making it London’s biggest club ground. Mauricio Pochettino’s men have started well at their new home, winning all three matches since taking up residence.
What about that run-in?
This weekend’s trip to City aside, Spurs have a generous run-in, with only Everton from the top half to play and three of their final five at home. A bullish Pochettino recently claimed:
“I am confident we are going to finish in the top four,” and is talking of marquee signings to embrace a new dawn. A dangling Champions League carrot is a must to attract new talent – or hold on to existing stars.
They don’t like to draw, do they...
Stalemates are off the menu. The 1-1 draw with Arsenal in Spurs’ farewell to their temporary Wembley residency last month was their first of the league season, alongside 21 wins and 10 losses.
Arsenal - 4th (P33, 66 points)
Still to come:
21 April: Crystal Palace (H)
24 April: Wolverhampton Wanderers (A)
29 April: Leicester City (A)
4 May: Brighton & Hove Albion (H)
12 May: Burnley (A)
A new man at the helm…
It’s been a decent first season for Unai Emery after replacing Arsene Wenger in the summer, and last season’s points tally has already been beaten. Denying Spurs a Champions League spot after trailing them by 10 points would be a huge fillip. Arsenal’s home form is impeccable and they have won 10 on the spin for the first time since ’97/98’s first title under Le Professeur.
Two thirds of Arsenal’s 66 points have come at home, and three of their final five game are away, including back-to-back trips to Wolves – which we know from experience will be tough – and an improving Leicester. The Gunners did win in their last outing away from home (a 1-0 triumph over Watford), but that was just their second victory on the road in the last 10 league games. Poor away form dogged them in 2017/18 and may cost them dearly now.
The kindest run-in?
Perhaps the Gunners do have a slightly more favourable end to the season, with no games against the top six, while playing the likes of Crystal Palace and Burnley who have little to play for. However, Wolves and Leicester are chasing a seventh-place finish and Brighton are fighting for their lives at the bottom. It might not quite be as straightforward as it sounds…
Auba and Laca’? Sounds like a new band...
Don’t be daft. It’s Pierre Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette – they account for 31 of Arsenal’s 66 Premier League goals (18 and 13 respectively) – and 38 in all competitions. Emery ranks them alongside the best he’s worked with – and he had Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and co at Paris Saint-Germain.
Chelsea - 5th (P34, 66 points)
Still to come:
22 April: Burnley (H)
28 April: Manchester United (A)
4 May: Watford (H)
12 May: Leicester City (A)
That run-in looks pretty tough, though...
It does – Burnley is never easy, and Sean Dyche’s men have looked rejuvenated in the second half of the season. Watford and Leicester are chasing a European spot themselves as seventh place could secure Europa League football, but the visit to Old Trafford looks the defining moment, with the air of a Champions League play-off about it.
That’s okay. We’ll be ready. Will they?
Who knows? There’s such an air of unpredictability about Chelsea, the only certainty is uncertainty. Failure to qualify for the Champions League for a second consecutive year - they could still make it through the Europa League - would not be well received…
They seem very excited about Callum Hudson-Odoi...
Homegrown talent always quickens the pulse and in the teenage winger – not 19 until November – Chelsea have a real prospect on their hands. After struggling to earn a starting berth for most of the season, Hudson-Odoi has been selected form the off in the Blues’ last three league games (coming soon after his England debut), and he’ll be keen to show his quality again in the coming weeks.
What about Eden Hazard? He’s hit a bit of form...
Very true – 16 league goals, including a Goal of the Season contender against West Ham a few weeks ago – and a Premier League chart-topping 12 assists. Undoubtedly the one to watch when they come to M16.
This feature first appeared in the West Ham edition of United Review on 13 April and has since been updated.
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