After last night's Champions League semi final victory for Chelsea it has become clear that Arsenal have to finish in the top three to insure their qualification for the same competition next season. Chelsea will not be favourites going into the final against either Real Madrid or Bayern Munich, but a victory for them would qualify them for next season's group stages. It would also mean that the fourth placed team in the Premier League would only qualify for the Europa League next season.
Arsenal's fantastic run up until a few weeks ago has seen him take the lead in the race for the now highly coveted third place, but there is still some work to do. Their defeats to Queens Park Rangers and Wigan have left them looking a little vulnerable, but their fate is still in their own hands. Three wins in their last three games would surely see Arsenal finish third unless Newcastle can make up a gap of 13 goals in goal difference, as well as winning their last four games.
It looks like the race for third place will go right to the wire with both Spurs and Chelsea involved as well. On the face of it Spurs have the easiest run of games, but three of their four opponents are fighting against relegation. They will have to be at their best to beat Blackburn, Bolton and Aston Villa before playing Fulham in their final game of the season.
Spurs have only won once in their last nine league games, and taken six points in the process. If they lose even one of their final four games I cannot see them having any real chance of finishing third. It would be a huge blow for them to miss out on the Champions League after considering themselves title challengers for so much of the season.
Chelsea are in a similar situation to Spurs, and they will probably have to win all four of their remaining matches to finish third too. Three of those games are at home, and the really crucial game in those three is the game against Newcastle. They would be expected to beat both QPR and Blackburn at home, but an in-form Newcastle might be a different prospect for them.
Chelsea also have to make a trip to Liverpool in those last four games, and they have an FA Cup final date with the same opposition besides their Champions League final. It's a very tough finish to their season, and it would be a remarkable achievement for them to win both finals and finish in the top three too. I think they might beat Liverpool in the FA Cup, but the other two are probably beyond them.
Newcastle could be the real threat to Arsenal in the race for third place, and they have won their last six games in a row. Their final four games are far from easy with trips to Wigan, Chelsea and Everton, as well as a home game against title chasing Manchester City. They will have to do even better than they have done in their last six games to win all of their remaining games.
Arsenal have their first test this Saturday afternoon when they visit Stoke in a game which has caused them problems in the past. With Chelsea and Spurs not playing until Sunday a victory for Arsenal at Stoke would be a huge boost for their chances of finishing third, and a huge blow for both Spurs and Chelsea. They will both play their game in hand next week along with Newcastle, and it would be great for Arsenal to have some breathing space before those games.
It won't be easy for Arsenal against Stoke with Mikael Arteta and Theo Walcott both picking up injuries that have finished their season. There is still enough quality in the Arsenal team to take all three points though, and they will be looking to the leaders on the pitch to show the way. Hopefully the two awards Robin van Persie received this week will help him to rediscover his goalscoring form.
Stoke are the lowest scorers in the Premier League so far this season, and one of only three teams to have averaged less than one goal a game. A win for Arsenal against Stoke combined with some other good results in their favour could see Arsenal having an awful lot to play for against Norwich in their final home game the following week. It would be great to tie up third place and St. Totteringham's Day in that final home game, and give the Arsenal fans a chance to cheer their heroes for one final time at home this season.
It's probably wishful thinking on my part to think Arsenal can have third place boxed off with a game to go this season. It's certainly an awful long way from where the team were at the end of August, or even the start of October.
At that stage of the season Arsenal had played seven league games and taken only seven points. They had also conceded 16 goals in those seven games, as well as losing away to arch rivals Spurs. Most Arsenal fans would have been delighted at the thought of being favourites to finish third with only three games left all those months ago.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.