Wednesday 15 May 2013
Arsenal’s 4-1 defeat of Wigan Athletic on Tuesday night has raised the possibility of an end-of-season play-off between the Gunners and Chelsea to determine which of the two sides finish in third place in the Barclays Premier League.
Their emphatic victory at the Emirates, which confirmed Wigan’s relegation to the Championship, moved Arsene Wenger’s charges back to within two points of Chelsea, who lie third on 72 points with one match remaining, and cut the Blues’ goal-difference advantage to one (35 versus Arsenal’s 34). It also moved the Gunners to within two of Chelsea’s total goals tally (73 versus 71), raising the prospect of the two London sides finishing level on points, goal difference and goals scored.
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In order for a play-off to occur, Chelsea must be held to a draw by Everton at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, and Arsenal need to win at Newcastle United by a single goal while scoring two more than Chelsea. For example, if Rafael Benitez’s side and Everton share a goalless draw, Arsenal must win 2-1. If Chelsea draw 1-1, the Gunners must win 3-2 and so on.
Premier League rule C14 states the following: 'If at the end of the Season either the League Champions or the Clubs to be relegated or the question of qualification for other competitions cannot be determined because 2 or more Clubs are equal on points, goal difference and goals scored, the Clubs concerned shall play off one or more deciding League Matches on neutral grounds, the format, timing and venue of which shall be determined by the Board.'
The teams who finish in the top three places in the Barclays Premier League automatically qualify for next season’s UEFA Champions League group stages. The fourth-placed team is required to play in a third qualifying round play-off for the right to play those group stages.
After Manchester City confirmed their runners-up position by completing a 2-0 win at Reading on Tuesday there are still three clubs vying for the remaining two top-four places. Should Chelsea lose to Everton, Arsenal can leapfrog the Blues into third place, while Tottenham Hotspur can still finish fourth, ahead of Arsenal, should they beat Sunderland at White Hart Lane on Sunday and their north London rivals fail to beat Newcastle United at St James' Park.
There has never been an end-of-season play-off in the history of the Premier League although organisers did have to prepare for the possibility of a play-off towards the end of the 1995/96 season when Manchester United and Newcastle United were both contending for the title. The title play-off would have taken place at Wembley Stadium on either 16 or 21 May and a first run of tickets were printed (see photo).