In the English Premier League, fourth place is the mark of a successful season. Although no trophy is doled out for being number four, millions of pounds are.
Earning the spot ensures that a team enters the UEFA Champions League in the upcoming season. For Arsenal’s manager, Arsene Wenger, the recent seasons’ fourth place results have secured his job.
This year, there is heavy competition for this spot. The days of the “big four” are over as Liverpool has struggled and Manchester City and Tottenham have found new life. Even strangers such as Newcastle are in the mix for fourth place this year, and the race is so tight, the final games of the season will likely determine who graces the big stage next season, and who settles for the measly Europa League spot.
Both Manchester clubs seem to be well out of this race. They are focused on the title, and will probably finish one and two this year. Then comes the mystery. Tottenham comfortably sits in third with a seven point cushion. However, their recent 5-2 drubbing by the hands of Arsenal will have provided just enough rattle to shake the foundation. Their hopes of title contention should be quelled now, and with Manchester United coming to town on the weekend they could end up in the dogfight for fourth.
Arsenal and Chelsea are currently even on points and sit in fourth and fifth place. These clubs have long forgotten what life without the Champions League is like. They made up the perennial backbone of the big four and any slip from grace would result in mass firings. Chelsea boss Andre Villa-Boas is likely to be sacked regardless of league standings, but Arsene Wenger, who seems to hang by a thread every year for his job, may finally fall if Arsenal slips out. Both these clubs do have experience on their side. They should be able to close out tense matches and have late pushes towards the summit.
Newcastle United has been the pleasant surprise of the season. They reside in sixth place, 3 points off of Arsenal and Chelsea. They had a thunderous start to the campaign and were well within the top four but their form has slipped as late. Realistically, they have no chance of Champions League play next year but will likely be thrilled to play in the Europa League, which is a success for them.
Then there is Liverpool. They are seventh and are seven points out of the sacred ground, though they have a game in hand. Their recent thrilling Carling Cup success will inspire the Reds with confidence and determination. But Steven Gerrard’s claims that this is just the beginning highlights their previous frustrations. They are a long shot for fourth, and will absolutely need to beat Arsenal this weekend to have any hopes for a return to the big four.
So how will it all pan out you ask? Well, I see a grand Tottenham collapse. Once they lose this weekend, manager Harry Redknapp will see the storm clouds and bolt for the England job as any hopes for the title will be washed away. Liverpool may make a strong run but I fear they are too far behind. I envision that Arsenal will wind up third, saving Wenger’s job for another trophy-less season (sigh). Chelsea will be fourth, but Villa-Boas will be shown the door regardless. Liverpool will be fifth, Newcastle sixth, and Spurs will finish seventh after losing ten straight matches and will have a pleasant return to mediocrity and obscurity. Adebayor will announce his retirement and the world will be right once again.