The business end of the season is around the corner, the top four teams will find out their fate over the next four months. Last season saw Tottenham Hotspur handed a cruel blow in their quest for a run at the Champions League. Not only were they pipped to the post by their fierce north London rivals when they had spent the best part of the season ahead of Arsenal, but they had finished in the top four which under usual circumstance would warrant them a place in the Champions League. How were Spurs supposed to know that it was written in the stars that Chelsea should win the competition that they were themselves battling so hard to get into thus giving Chelsea a chance to defend the cup even though they had their worst finish for ten years, finishing in 6th? This season everything is shaping up a little bit differently.
Manchester United lead at the halfway point, it looks unlikely that City will catch them but then again they did throw away an eight point lead last season. Chelsea have seemed to turn a corner under Benitez despite the boo’s and the unrest from the Stamford Bridge faithful. The defence has tightened up and that gap between the defence and midfield has been bridged. Their home form may look a little worrying but they create enough chances every game to dispatch teams and with the shrewd addition of a clinical Demba Ba, Chelsea will become even more free scoring. This is why they are favourites to take the third spot.
Spurs won’t have forgotten easily how fate snatched away the chance to be playing Champions League this season. It must still hurt the players, fans and the club, they have an ambitious bunch of players that want to be taking that next step. A real concern will be whether they can keep hold of a player like Gareth Bale if they don’t get a place in the Champions League this year, the club will be well aware of this. There is a lot at stake for Andre Villas-Boas and he has a point to prove after being dismissed by Chelsea after only half a season. Consistency is definitely something that Villas-Boas has brought to Spurs plus the clubs downfall last season was the Redknapp saga. Spurs’ form dipped when Redknapp was in line for the England job, this year they have no such distraction.
A lot depends on who Spurs purchase in the January transfer window, they have a real creative void since the departure of Modric, but nevertheless they always seem to be linked with big money moves. But in reality it is dubious as to whether they have large chunks of money to dish out on big names. They have never spent more than £20m on a player but yet there is a lot of talk of £20m plus deals for Joao Moutinho or Willian, any of which would be great acquisitions and precisely what they would need, too many times this season they have just needed that little extra to unlock defences these players hold that ability. This sort of signing would really signal their intent on getting Champions League football and push Chelsea for 3rd place.
Arsenal have had an indifferent season although repeating history by beating Spurs 5-2 at the Emirates again. They really lack the star quality that they have had in previous seasons. Losing Robin van Persie would have been the biggest blow yet, with all those goals he contributed last season, where will they find them this year? Olivier Giroud has looked average, no doubt he does have goals in him, but not in his current form or not at least while he is still settling into English football. Walcott has held the club to ransom in more ways than one, not only by demanding £100k a week on his new contract, but he also wants to play as the centre forward. Now this is not a rare demand made by wingers to move into the centre, but does he have the substance to hold the line on his own? As far as strikers go Walcott certainly doesn’t fit into the tall imposing category, in fact Suarez is a couple of inches taller, but he really is a handful that stretches opposition defences, it’s hard to imagine Walcott really challenging physically.
Wenger continually toys with the fans and media about whether there will be some January signings but the fact remains they do need to strengthen if they are to have a chance of playing champions league football next season. Their best signing of the summer by no coincidence was their most expensive; Santi Cazorla an established player that had impressed in La Liga. Yes, there are still gems to be found as Wenger has shown in the past, but now is not the time to gamble on potential “stars” and nurture them only giving them brief spells during the season. More experience is certainly a trait that wouldn’t go a miss in this young arsenal team and a prolific goal scorer to put away all the chances they create.
Everton are a team that are particularly hard to play against these days as they are very well drilled by David Moyes. They still lack strength in depth although they have invested, they always seem to be unlucky with injury. If they can keep all their players in January then they too can push for third place. West Bromwich Albion’s threat as anticipated is starting to fizzle out after a slightly poor run of form, Steve Clarke has made a fantastic start as manager and they play attractive football and seem to really work as a unit. Unfortunately for them, it looks unlikely that they will have the legs to be fighting for that all important 4th place at the end of the season. Liverpool have looked a threat a few times this season, but they lack consistency. Suarez has carried them through a lot of games but Gerrard looks to have found form, they could challenge.
So the fourth place battle could be between three teams, Chelsea’s home form could leave them fighting for fourth, but they have the firepower to succeed. At the present time, it looks as though it will be the age old north London foes fighting it out for that all important spot. At the moment, Spurs have the advantage in terms of points clocked on the board however Arsenal have the psychological advantage over Spurs. They were in the same position last year and they turned it around, that’s probably being kind to Arsenal, Spurs simply threw it away. Spurs have not finished ahead of Arsenal since 1995, this is something that must hang over them, but this season is poised for them to cause an upset and a dramatic twist in the clubs history.
They have already made history by beating United at Old Trafford 3-2 earlier in the season. The consequences for Arsenal if they don’t achieve a Champions League spot will be far greater than Spurs. Wenger spoke earlier at their AGM that the goal every year was to deliver Champions League football, what if he were to miss out on this would that be the end for him? At the very least he would have to change his transfer policy and maybe the style of his beautiful football philosophy.
A lot will depend on how well the two managers utilise the transfer window; so far neither manager is yet to make their move. A pinch of luck will be needed to keep their key players fit, Wilshire and Cazorla for Arsenal, Bale and Dembele for Spurs. Spurs’ challenge this year is most imaginable, they look more consistent and they have a good squad in place. Both teams have European football to concentrate on still this season. Spurs in the Europa and Arsenal in the Champions League, it will be interesting to see if Villas-Boas, a man who has already won the Europa League, will throw everything at this competition knowing he must keep his squad fit to maintain their league position. One thing is for certain the run in between these bitter rivals will provide plenty of entertainment.