The Round Up: Arsenal sour Ole’s wonderful week in a potentially pivotal weekend for the top four race

Ball on pitch
Even this free google image ‘ball on pitch’ doesn’t know who will make it into the top four this season

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United side, still fresh from their already famous  Champions League last 16 triumph in Paris in midweek, were handed a small dose of domestic reality as they fell to a 2-0 defeat to Arsenal in a result that could have plenty of ramifications when it comes to the top four come May. The defeat is Solskjaer’s first domestically since his reign as United caretaker boss and will take the shine off what was a historic week for the club.

In front of a buoyant Emirates crowd, a somewhat windy strike from Granit Xhaka and a cool as you like penalty from Pierre Emerick Aubameyang handed Arsenal the perfect tonic to their 3-1 loss at Rennes in the first leg of their respective last 16 European tie. Despite that recent setback, Unai Emery’s side, who have been ticking along very nicely in the league of late and are now just a single point behind rivals Spurs. And after Tottenham’s sloppy 2-1 away defeat to Southampton on Saturday, it’s clear which half of North London will have bragging rights heading into the international break.

Despite cruising into the Champions League quarter finals on Tuesday night, Tottenham’s domestic form has fallen off a cliff in the past few weeks. After being muted to make it a three way title race back in February they have since just picked up one point from their last four league games meaning that the trio of sides just behind them in the table have collectively closed in. Mauricio Pochettino will need to quickly address whatever reasons that have caused his side’s recent sharp dip in domestic form, as if they continue to stutter Spurs will very likely not showcase Champions League football at their new stadium next season. Which would be seen a huge disappointment considering the superb consistency they have showcased in recent seasons and the  superior position they would let slip if they somehow finish outside the top four this term.

Across London, Eden Hazard was Chelsea’s saviour once more as his late strike earned his side a point versus a very well organised Wolves outfit at Stamford Bridge. Despite a static performance for much of the game, Sarri’s Chelsea do seem to have rode out the horrific storm that was those crushing away defeats to both Bournemouth and Man City and of course Kepagate. The Blues are now unbeaten in four games since that infamous Carabao Cup final drama and despite not looking particularly convincing in recent weeks, they do possess more than enough quality to make a run for both the top four and the Europa League in order to bring Champions League football back to Stamford Bridge next term.

Tottenham’s recent slide means that four not three teams will now compete for the two spots left for Champions League qualification as now just four points divide Spurs in third from Chelsea in sixth and Sarri’s side still have a game in hand of the teams above them. So with eight games remaining this looks to be one of the exciting races for the top four in recent memory. Each season it goes without saying that each manager of ‘top six’ side needs to get his team into the top four to secure their immediate future but this point cannot be underlined enough when it comes to the current bosses at the helm of the teams chasing those top four spots.

For Pochettino not making the Champions League next season would be serious sign of regression just when many were tipping Spurs to begin challenging for ultimate glory. The boost of Champions League money for Arsenal boss Unai Emery would at the very least mean that he can likely go and have a little spend in the summer rather being told only loans are available for now. Meanwhile, Champions League football next season, after the turbulent 2019 that Maurizio Sarri has endured so far would be seen as a significant (and likely job saving) achievement in his first season. And when it comes to Solskjaer at United, getting his team into the top four after they were eleven points behind fourth spot when he took over back in December would surely seal the deal on what already looks like a foregone conclusion when it comes to the matter of who will be the next Manchester United boss.

So somehow there seems to be even more on the line than usual when it comes to the top four race and with each side possessing different strengths and indeed weaknesses, it’ll likely be a treat for fans and neutrals alike to watch to see who makes it into those hallowed top four places by the time the season is out.


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