Wednesday 01 May 2013
Manchester United may still be basking in the afterglow of a 13th Barclays Premier League title while Reading and Queens Park Rangers reflect on their imminent return to the Championship, but with three matchweeks of the season left there is still plenty at stake for clubs at both ends of the table.
UEFA Champions League football is still the target for the five clubs occupying second to sixth place, but one of those berths will almost certainly be taken by Manchester City, who require three more points from their remaining matches against Swansea City, West Bromwich Albion, Reading and Norwich City to secure a place at European football’s top table.
Assuming there is no Man City capitulation, that will leave four clubs battling it out for the remaining two places. Chelsea lie third on 65 points, Arsenal are a point back on 64, Tottenham Hotspur lie two points further behind in fifth place and Everton, in sixth, are not yet mathematically out of the picture with 59 points.
Crucially Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur have played one match fewer than Arsenal, but that game in hand takes place between the European club champions and Andre-Villas-Boas’s side at Stamford Bridge on 8 May. Should Spurs win that encounter, and their other three remaining matches, against Southampton, Stoke City and Sunderland, they will finish in the top four.
On paper third-placed Chelsea are in a position of strength but that could all change should they lost to Manchester United on Sunday and then drop points at home to Spurs three days later.
The Blues, who also have a UEFA Europa League semi-final second leg to contend with this Thursday, then have two more tricky fixtures to negotiate in the form of Aston Villa away and Everton at home.
Arsenal could find themselves in a position whereby they miss out on a top-four finish despite winning all of their remaining matches. The north Londoners go to Queens Park Rangers on Saturday evening, before hosting Wigan Athletic on 14 May and concluding their campaign at Newcastle United. Their fate could even hinge on goal difference.
|5 May||Man Utd (A)||4 May
|8 May||Tottenham (H)|
|11 May||Aston Villa (A)||14 May
||Everton (H)||19 May||Newcastle (A)|
|4 May||Southampton (H)||5 May
|8 May||Chelsea (A)|
|12 May||Stoke (A)||12 May
||West Ham (H)|
||Sunderland (H)||19 May||Chelsea (A)|
"It will come down to nerve and be about who is the most clinical at the right moments," said Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta this week. "When it gets to the last games, the teams who are the most clinical win. We have seen that over the last few weeks.
"Every team in the Premier League is playing for something – relegation or Europe. It will be interesting"
"It will be a battle for everyone. There is pressure on us like there is for the other teams. Every team in the Premier League is playing for something – relegation or Europe. It will be interesting."
Arteta’s former club Everton will be hoping for their rivals to drop points on the way to the finishing line, but they have a five-point gap to bridge on fourth place, have played one match more than Tottenham and face a trip to in-form Liverpool on Sunday. The Blues can also still qualify for the UEFA Europa League by overtaking Spurs, who are three points and three goals better off than Everton with a game in hand.
Liverpool, meanwhile, are out of Champions League contention and need to win all their remaining matches to stand any chance of booking another Europa League adventure. Even then they would depend on Everton dropping points and Spurs managing no less than a point from their last four matches.
At the other end of the table, there are still 11 clubs within 10 points above the drop zone with four matches left, including ninth-placed Swansea City. West Ham United, in 10th also have 42 points to their name but have played one match more than Michael Laudrup’s side, and supporters of the east London outfit will need no reminding that it was with that very same points-haul that the Hammers became the side with the highest points-tally to suffer relegation back in 2002/03.
That said, the sheer number of sides lying beneath them who will take points off each other makes the Swams West Ham virtual certainties to stay up. Fulham and Stoke City, on 40 points apiece are also relatively, although not completely, safe, while Southampton are not yet out of the woods. Saints are a point worse off and Norwich City in 14th are still looking over their shoulder on 38 points.
The club under the greatest threat of demotion are Wigan Athletic, who are third from bottom and five points from safety. They, however, are the only club in the bottom half of the table with a game in hand. Should the perennial escape artists win that match they would just be two points behind their closest rivals Newcastle United, Aston Villa and Sunderland.
The run in for Roberto Martinez’s side is complicated by their involvement in the FA Cup final on 11 May. After facing West Bromwich Albion away and Swansea at home, Wigan go to Wembley. Three days later their survival bid takes them to Arsenal before an end-of-season finale against Aston Villa.
|4 May||West Brom (A)||4 May
||West Ham (A)|
|7 May||Swansea (H)|
|14 May||Arsenal (A)||12 May
||Aston Villa (H)||19 May||Arsenal (H)|
Both north-east clubs will need to recover quickly from the shock of conceding six goals at the weekend to avoid getting sucked towards the trap door, with Newcastle hoping to improve in their final three matches against West Ham, QPR and Arsenal.
"We are in a dogfight, and we have got to fight"
Alan Pardew, for one, is under no illusios about the task facing his side: "We are in a dogfight, and we have got to fight," said the Magpies' manager after his side's 6-0 home humilation at the hands of Liverpool. "We have enough character and belief in that dressing room to get through it. We have to show that now."
Sunderland’s last three matches take in Stoke, Southampton and Tottenham, while Aston Villa, fresh from Monday night’s 6-1 thrashing of the Black Cats meet Norwich before taking on Chelsea and, on what could be a dramatic final day showdown, Wigan.
|4 May||Norwich (A)||6 May
|11 May||Chelsea (H)||12 May||Southampton (H)|
|19 May||Wigan (A)||19 May