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Premier League top four run-in: who has the best fixtures – Tottenham, Arsenal, Man Utd or West Ham?

Who will qualify for the Champions League?

Mark Critchley
Northern Football Correspondent
Monday 11 April 2022 13:02 BST
Tottenham, Arsenal, Manchester United and West Ham are battling for a top-four finish
Tottenham, Arsenal, Manchester United and West Ham are battling for a top-four finish (Getty Images / The Independent)

There is plenty of intrigue all around the Premier League as the final weeks of a long season approach us. The top four race is still open but the field is narrowing.

Arsenal appeared to be cruising towards their first Champions League campaign in five years but a spate of injuries to a small squad and consecutive defeats have suddenly opened things up.

Tottenham have risen above their old rivals and finally appear to be finding some consistency under Antonio Conte, with the January arrivals of Dejan Kulusevski and Rodrigo Bentancur impressing, while Harry Kane and Son Heung-min are in form.

Much could depend on the rearranged north London derby, though that will not be played until the middle of May.

Manchester United will hope to have salvaged their season by that point. It now looks unlikely that Champions League football will return to Old Trafford next season. West Ham, meanwhile, continue to fight on two fronts.

This increasingly looks like a two-horse race. The Independent has looked over each side’s run-in to see where it might be won.


Points: 57

Avg. opponent PPG: 1.31

Run-in difficulty: ★★½

Tottenham are in the strongest position of all four contenders and not only because they are the team currently in possession of that coveted fourth-place spot. Antonio Conte’s side also have the most favourable run-in.

That is despite their final seven games including the most difficult fixture possible, with a trip to Anfield pencilled in for the middle of next month. Liverpool boast the top flight’s only unbeaten home record this season, winning 12 of their 15 games.

Tottenham then have the rearranged north London derby the following midweek, though the Saturday-Thursday gap should leave enough time to recuperate between the two games and gives them an extra day’s rest on Arsenal.

Outside of those six days, the schedule is kind on paper. The toughest test that Tottenham face according to points-per-game is at home to a Brighton side with nothing to play for, having comfortably beaten Graham Potter’s side in the reverse fixture last month.

Brentford have taken points at home against the so-called ‘top six’ on a couple of occasions this season so should be handled with care. Leicester will also be a test but have picked up less than one point per-game on their travels this season.

Conte will certainly hope to get over the line if, by the penultimate weekend, Tottenham still occupy the Champions League spots. Spurs close out the campaign against Burnley at home and Norwich away. Both could already be relegated by that point.


Points: 54

Avg. opponent PPG: 1.44

Run-in difficulty: ★★★★

Arsenal have a game in hand on Tottenham, the most fixtures to fulfil of the all the contenders, and therefore the most points to play for too. But the top-four picture was a lot rosier for Mikel Arteta until back-to-back defeats.

Losing to both Crystal Palace and Brighton has left Arteta’s side three points adrift and only helped Tottenham extend their sizeable advantage on goal difference.

This weekend’s trip to Southampton must be approached with caution but it is not hard to see where Arsenal’s top-four pursuit will be won and lost. A five-game run from mid-April to mid-May begins with a trip to Stamford Bridge.

Then, Arsenal face all of their fellow top-four contenders in the space of four games. United visit the Emirates but Arteta’s side will have to travel to West Ham before making the short trip to White Hart Lane for the derby.

Arsenal are hoping to reach the Champions League for the first time in five years (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

An improved Leeds under Jesse Marsch visit the Emirates in the middle of that run. Only Manchester City and Liverpool can boast superior home records to Arsenal this season but five of their last eight games are on the road.

After a trip to St James’ Park on the penultimate weekend, Arsenal close out with a visit from Everton, who have the worst away record in the league. If the fate of Frank Lampard’s side is already sealed, then it should be a routine win. If not, things could get interesting.

Manchester United

Points: 51

Avg. opponent PPG: 1.54

Run-in difficulty: ★★★★½

A top-four finish is considered the bare minimum every season at Old Trafford but after the latest disappointing result and post-match inquest of a sometimes nightmarish campaign, reality is starting to set in with United.

Returning to the Champions League next season is a big ask for interim manager Ralf Rangnick from here, especially as their run-in is arguably the most difficult of any of the four contenders.

Even this weekend’s trip to Goodison Park should not be taken for granted, with Everton generally performing much better at home than they do away. But drop points either in that game or at home to Norwich the following weekend, United will look well and truly gone.

A pair of trips to Anfield and the Emirates follow, to be played in the space of four days. If United are to salvage a Champions League spot, results will most likely be needed in both games and especially against Arsenal.

The same is true of Chelsea’s visit to Old Trafford on the penultimate weekend, though that could be brought forward or shifted around if Tuchel’s side reach the FA Cup final.

United’s run-in is not too unfavourable outside of those three key fixtures but they are among the most difficult possible in the entire schedule. But even the final day trip to Crystal Palace is far from straightforward, as Arsenal found earlier this week.

Though it would not be unheard of for a team in United’s position to turn things around, United do not look much like that team. If Erik ten Hag is to be Old Trafford’s next permanent manager as expected, his first season will be spent in the Europa League at best.

West Ham

Points: 51

Avg. opponent PPG: 1.36

Run-in difficulty: ★★★½

It may be time to count West Ham out of the contest.

After a 2-0 defeat to Brentford, David Moyes’ men are six points adrift of fourth-place Tottenham having played a game more than Conte’s men, while fifth-place Arsenal have two games in hand on the Hammers.

Though they still sit above United in the table on goal difference, they also have one eye on European competition while their rivals can simply focus on domestic matters.

The Europa League campaign was prioritised by Moyes a while ago and rightly so. Winning it may now be their best chance of an automatic spot in next season’s Champions League group stages.

West Ham have enjoyed another impressive campaign (Getty Images)

Though a visit from Burnley this weekend is a chance to dust themselves down and pick up where they left off, but they will have to negotiate the same Thursday-Sunday turnaround following the return leg in Lyon.

Then come Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City, all in the space of four games. That meeting with City could be rearranged depending on whether Pep Guardiola’s side’s progress to the FA Cup final and West Ham’s fortunes in Europe.

Either way, they are likely to run into the champions while they are still hell-bent on defending their title. And by that point, their focus may solely be on a first major European final since 1976.

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