Premier League top-four race: Who has the best run-in? Manchester United, Arsenal, Spurs or Chelsea?

Four teams are battling for two places. Who has the clearest path to next season's Champions League?

Luke Brown,Mark Critchley
Tuesday 02 April 2019 10:37
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Unai Emery: Arsenal's Away form is key

With seven games remaining in the Premier League campaign, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Chelsea all have a realistic chance of securing Champions League football next season.

Just a few weeks ago Spurs were hot on the heels of both Liverpool and Manchester City and even being talked about as potential Premier League title winners. However a dismal run of just one point taken from their past four games has seen them fall off the pace, with their place in the top four now under serious threat.

Arsenal now sit in third two points ahead of their north London rivals, after an impressive 2-0 victory over Newcastle United on Monday evening. The Gunners appear to be hitting form just at the right moment and crucially have no remaining games against the Premier League’s big six.

But Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United cannot be discounted from securing their place in the top four. Since the Norwegian’s arrival they have been in tremendous form, with their miraculous recent victory in Paris demonstrating that they clearly still belong in Europe’s premium club competition.

Sitting one point behind them are Chelsea, who only narrowly scraped past Cardiff City on Sunday afternoon. But like Arsenal, Maurizio Sarri’s team also have a chance of returning to the Champions League by winning this season’s Europa League.

By calculating the average points-per-game home and away of each top-flight club, we can weigh up the difficulty of each of the four club’s run-ins and see where the race for the top four may be won and lost.


Arsenal

Current position: 3rd

Points: 63

Average home/away points of opponents: 1.36

Remaining fixtures

07/04 Everton (A)

15/04 Watford (A)

20/04 Crystal Palace (H)

29/04 Leicester (A)

04/05 Brighton (H)

12/05 Burnley (A)

TBC Wolves (A)

Of the four sides this article focuses on, Arsenal have the statistically greatest chance of finishing in the top four and securing Champions League football for next season.

Unai Emery’s side have performed superbly in their past league fixtures., with Monday's victory over Newcastle United lifting them into the top four.

Arsenal have no more games remaining against the top six. Of their next seven fixtures, the most challenging is a trip to Watford in mid April.

Their next two away trips, against Wolves and Everton, are also tricky. Arsenal comfortably saw off Everton 2-0 at the Emirates but were held to a 1-1 draw by Wolves back in November.

Arsenal then finish the season with extremely winnable matches against Brighton & Hove Albion at the AMEX, who have the fourth worst away record in the league, and Burnley at Turf Moor, who have the fourth worst home record.

Arsenal must also contend with their Europa League responsibilities. Although trailing Rennes 3-1 in their round of 16 tie, it may yet work in their favour to be knocked out at an earlier stage.

Tottenham Hotspur

Current position: 4th

Points: 61

Average home/away points of opponents: 1.28

Recent defeats on the road to Burnley, Southampton and Liverpool have placed Tottenham’s top four place in real jeopardy.

Remaining fixtures

07/04 Brighton (H)

13/04 Huddersfield (H)

20/04 Manchester City (A)

27/04 West Ham (H)

04/05 Bournemouth (A)

12/05 Everton (H)

TBC Crystal Palace (H)

Mauricio Pochettino’s side also face a trip to the Etihad before the end of the season, a match they are unlikely to get much out of.

Their penultimate game of the season, away to Bournemouth, is meanwhile a real banana skin. Spurs may have thrashed Eddie Howe’s team at Wembley but Bournemouth are a different proposition at the Vitality Stadium, with the seventh best home record in the league.

Home matches against Brighton and Huddersfield are eminently winnable, but West Ham will be determined to spoil Tottenham’s season at the end of April.

There are two other factors that could derail Tottenham’s attempt to finish in the top four for a third successive season. The first is the move to the club’s new season, which could act as a positive or introduce another element of pressure.

The second is their continued participation in the Champions League, with Spurs reaching the last eight stage of the competition for just the second time in their history after a 4-0 aggregate victory over Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund.

Manchester United

Current position: 5th

Points: 61

Average home/away points of opponents: 1.30

Remaining fixtures

02/04 Wolves (A)

13/04 West Ham (H)

21/04 Everton (A)

24/04 Manchester City (H)

28/04 Chelsea (H)

04/05 Huddersfield (A)

12/05 Cardiff (H)

Manchester United’s Premier League run-in is fractionally easier than Arsenal’s.

Unlike Arsenal, United do still have two matches against the big six to play. At the end of April United host two huge matches: first they entertain league leaders Manchester City, before then welcoming top four rivals Chelsea.

If United can finish April still in contention, they have an excellent chance of making the top four thanks to their exceptionally kind fixtures in May. They travel to Huddersfield — who have the worst home record in the league — before finishing the season at home to Cardiff.

Like all of their top four rivals they must also play Everton, although United have a fine recent record at Goodison, not losing at the ground in their past four visits.

United’s miraculous victory over Paris Saint-Germain means they also have an outside chance of securing Champions League football for next season by winning this summer’s final. United are currently joint fourth favourites along with Bayern Munich, ahead of both Liverpool and Spurs.

Chelsea

Current position: 6th

Points: 60

Average home/away points of opponents: 1.43

Chelsea have the hardest run-in of the four teams pushing for the remaining two Champions League places still realistically up for grabs.

Remaining fixtures

08/04 West Ham (H)

14/04 Liverpool (A)

22/04 Burnley (H)

28/04 Manchester United (A)

04/05 Watford (H)

12/05 Leicester (A)

TBC Brighton (H)

They must still visit Anfield and Old Trafford, while this week's London derby against West Ham is also likely to prove challenging.

Chelsea meanwhile conclude their season with two difficult fixtures. Watford have the joint best away record of any side from outside the Premier League’s established top six, while Leicester are all but guaranteed to improve their home record now that they have employed a new manager.

Their biggest advantage over their rivals is a game in hand at home against Brighton, who do not travel well.

Like Arsenal, Chelsea also have their Europa League campaign to focus on. Of the sides remaining in the tournament, Chelsea are the bookmakers favourite to win the final in Baku, ahead of Napoli, Valencia and Inter Milan.

With three points to make up in the race for the top four, Chelsea have the statistically smallest chance of securing Champions League football through their Premier League place this season.


Verdict

Like the title race, the hunt for a top-four spot is incredibly close and difficult to call. All four clubs have European commitments - for now - and need to choose their priorities carefully.

At least the target is clear: no team has ever finished lower than fourth after reaching 76 points. Tottenham are within five wins of that figure and have five home games to play.

Pochettino’s side are probably the best of all four contenders and should ultimately pick up what they need, though they have to arrest their slide quickly.

And if United can shake off Sunday’s defeat, they have shown the form over the last few months to get close to the wins they require.

Arsenal’s run-in appears to be the most straightforward but their number of away games combined with their poor record on the road spells trouble, despite the fact they are currently sitting pretty in third place.

Chelsea, meanwhile, will need results away from their five challenging away fixtures if they are to sneak in.

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