There is an interesting battle developing in the race for the top four in the Premier League, as three teams try to snatch one place. Chelsea, in fourth, have Arsenal and Manchester United – fifth and sixth respectively – chasing them for a Champions League qualification place, with the latter two just three points behind the Blues.
Tottenham ‘we shall never draw’ Hotspur are another four points ahead, leaving them seven clear of Arsenal and United. Harry Winks’ last-gasp header to win the game against Fulham on Sunday was vitally important, and Spurs will feel confident of finishing in the top four again. But, while they look like they’re in a good position, they can’t take their position for granted. Injuries are starting to rack up and their small squad is beginning to look a bit exposed. Harry Kane and Dele Alli are both out, with Son Heung-min off at the Asian Cup. Mousa Dembele has been sold, while Moussa Sissoko is injured.
Tottenham may come into that battle, but for now it’s Chelsea, Arsenal and Man United fighting for the one place. Arsenal’s 2-0 win against Chelsea on Saturday was vitally important in terms of the race, and the Gunners and Man United will feel confident of overtaking Maurizio Sarri’s under-performing side. It could be a very exciting battle.
Of the three, Chelsea will be feeling the least confident of finishing in fourth. They’ve been quite poor lately, and haven’t looked anywhere near as good as they did at the start of the season. Sarri transformed the team extremely quickly, and they looked brilliant in the opening months of the season, but they’ve dropped off considerably since then. The imminent signing of Gonzalo Higuain will give them something different, and if he comes in firing, they’ll be much more confident of kicking on again. But whether the 31-year-old can do that or not is another question. It remains to be seen whether he’s past his best or not.
Arsenal will be full of confidence after their brilliant display against Chelsea on Saturday, and will be hoping to really kick on. They were impressive during their 22-game unbeaten run earlier in the season, even if it wasn’t always perfect. Since then, they’ve been quite poor, and struggled during the festive period a bit. Prior to the Chelsea game, they were beaten in three of their six Premier League games, drawing one and winning just two. It was a disappointing run, but they’ll want to get back on track now.
Apart from a trip to Manchester City in a couple of weeks, Arsenal’s next few fixtures aren’t bad. They’ll play Cardiff, Huddersfield, Southampton and Bournemouth, and will definitely be targeting 12 points from those games. If they do that, and don’t get hammered by City, it’ll be a good run.
Man United look a different team under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and have won all seven games since he came in. He’s done brilliantly, and has dragged them back into that battle from what looked like an irretrievable position. They’re right back in the mix now, and can’t be written off. The players are absolutely full of confidence, and will feel that they have what it takes to finish up there. They have plenty of quality in their team and look like they’ll fight to the end of the season.
It’s a very interesting battle, but it’s very difficult to predict what way it will go. At the moment, Chelsea don’t look like they’ll manage it. They could get back to a good run of form, but that remains to be seen. Sarri’s comments about them being difficult to motivate could work for or against him. Hammering players hasn’t always gone well for managers, and we’ll see how they react.
The Eden Hazard to Real Madrid rumours that are back again may not help them either. But things could swing the opposite way, too. At the start of the season, they looked like they may have been in a title race with Liverpool and Man City. That didn’t work out, but they were up there. That shows how good they were at the time, and if they get back to playing like that, they should be alright.
Arsenal and Man United need to keep winning and keep the pressure on the Blues. They both have more than enough quality to keep in touch with them. The Gunners were dealt a blow with news that Hector Bellerin has ruptured his ACL and will miss the rest of the season. He’s undoubtedly one of their most important players, as he gives them so much both offensively and defensively from right-back. They may struggle without him.
Unai Emery has been very unlucky with injuries, as he’s now lost Bellerin, Rob Holding and Danny Welbeck to season-ending injuries. Holding was arguably their best defender before he got injured, while Welbeck is a very useful squad player that can fill in in a number of positions. We’ll see how they react, but they’ll be hoping that Ainsley Maitland-Niles can be an able deputy for the rest of the season. Stephan Lichtsteiner shouldn’t even be considered an option for the Premier League; he’s clearly well past it.
It’ll be very interesting to see how Man United do for the rest of the season. When they do lose a game, it’ll be interesting to see how they react. They’re riding on their good form at the minute, but a loss could bring them back down to earth. And between February and March, they play PSG twice, Liverpool, Arsenal and Man City. That run could be very difficult for them.
All-in-all, it’s almost impossible to predict how this race will go. Any one of them could finish up there. If things go badly, Chelsea and Arsenal can go all out for the Europa League in order for them to qualify for the Champions League, but they’d rather stay in the race for the top four than put all their eggs in that particular basket.
This race could go down to the wire.
That’s that for today. I decided to write a blog because I haven’t really been doing that. The idea is to write at least a couple of them every week, as well as the weekly in-depth article. This week’s in-depth article will be on the Crystal Palace/Brighton rivalry. It’s an interesting one, because they’re not close geographically, but there is a real derby feel about that fixture. Last week’s in-depth article was on Huddersfield’s success in the 1920s.
Anyway, I’ll be back soon. There isn’t going to be a schedule, as such, with the blog, but I do hope to get something up almost every day. We’ll see how that goes, though. Have a good Tuesday!