The Battle for European Qualification Continues – Who Will Win the War?
The past weekend had some mouthwatering fixtures with the destinies of many Premier League teams on the balance yet again. Aston Villa’s 6-1 romp of Sunderland was certainly an eye-opener for the enigmatic and energetic Paolo Di Canio, and he will be hungry for blood when Tony Pulis and his Rugby lot come visiting tonight.
The weekend’s fixtures saw Aston Villa’s resurgence continue with a Gabby Agbonlahor-inspired win over Norwich, giving Paul Lambert the pleasure of relishing a victory over the team he managed last season. Elsewhere, there were boring goalless stalemates in the Merseyside Derby, when West Ham hosted Newcastle and when Swansea hosted Manchester City.
Since their Capital One Cup triumph, the Swans have been a shadow of a team that terrorized opposition defenses with Miguel Michu grabbing all the headlines with his goalscoring class and trademark celebrations. He and the rest of Michael Laudrup’s men have taken their foot of the pedal in recent weeks.
Despite their Les Miserables adventure in January, Newcastle United is seriously flirting with relegation which is big disappointment from a manager that was honored with the Manager of the Season award by his peers the last season. With his contract believed to have been extended to 2020, the Newcastle hierarchy will be under the spotlight if Alan Pardew screws this up in the climax of the season.
Queens Park Rangers and Reading have already suffered the ignominy of relegation, so teams above them have been fighting hard to secure their Premier League status and usual relegation dogfight customers, Wigan Athletic, took a giant stride with a win over West Brom. Reading played for pride against Fulham and went back home with three points in a game the Royal’s forward, Adam Le Fondre, made history for being the substitute with the highest number of Premier League goals in a season.
Every football lover kept half an eye on three key fixtures last weekend – Tottenham’s home clash against Southampton, Arsenal’s visit to relegation-doomed Queens Park Rangers and Manchester United’s home clash against Chelsea.
The Gunners had began the weekend in third place harboring false hopes that Southampton could cause an upset in White Hart Lane. Just when a draw seemed to be on the cards, the hottest player in English football struck a thunderbolt from that impeccable left foot of his to grant his side all three points, leapfrogging Arsenal to third place albeit temporarily.
The onus was on Arsene Wenger’s men to perform in the late kickoff against Queen Park Rangers and they got off to the best of starts with Theo Walcott hitting the 20-goal mark in the 20th second of the game. Arsenal fans had hoped that it was going to be the beginning of a rout but after 90 frustrating minutes, it was the three points that was all that mattered…
Not another abject performance…
Not another ineffectual Lukas Podolski outing in the middle…
Not Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to make changes that would impact the game…
Not the fits of despair, frustration and High Blood Pressure I was having as I had this funny hunch that Queens Park Rangers were going to snatch a crushing equalizer…
Just three bloody absolutely vital points.
That nervy victory was enough to propel the Gunners back to third place and many had hoped that Manchester United would at least make Chelsea drop points to pave the way for one hell of a clash against Tottenham on Wednesday but the Blues had enough in the tank to see out a side that has been a force to be reckoned with in their home ground. Prior to yesterday’s narrow loss to Chelsea, Manchester United have always scored at home since the days Adolf Hitler ruled Nazi Germany.
As expected, the game had its fair share of controversy with Rafael receiving his marching orders for a malicious challenge on David Luiz. If Chelsea had dropped any points in Old Trafford, Wednesday’s game in hand against Tottenham would have been regarded as a must-not-lose game but with Rafa Benitez men sitting comfortably in third place, a win for Tottenham would see the North London outfit go level on points with Chelsea, plummeting Arsenal into Europa League territory with just two games left.
This coming weekend, Chelsea will visit Villa Park to play an Aston Villa side still on their toes with the likes of Southampton, Norwich, Newcastle, Sunderland and even Wigan waiting for the Villans to slip up. It’s certainly not going to be a stroll in the park for the Blues but I’m tipping a squad of that quality to see out any threat Aston Villa would pose.
With Arsenal’s weekend’s opponent, Wigan, gearing up for a FA Cup final against Manchester City in Wembley, the Gunners will have to wait till Tuesday evening to host the FA Cup finalists in their last home match of the campaign. This also means that Arsenal would have known the outcome of Tottenham’s away trip to Stoke, which will add a little bit of pressure at the start of the game against Wigan. The Latics would be as stubborn as they usually are but I can predict that Arsenal would ease past them with consummate ease.
On the final day of the 2012/13 season, Chelsea would host Everton, Tottenham hosts Sunderland while Arsenal visits Newcastle.
With Everton assured of a Europa League berth, they could allow complacency creep into their game, allowing the Blues to secure maximum points as well as Champions League qualification. If Sunderland manages to secure their Premier League status before clashing with Tottenham, Gareth Bale could have the chance to add to his impressive goal count courtesy of a lax display from Paolo Di Canio’s side.
This would mean that Arsenal will have to defeat Newcastle and hope for the worst for their Champions League aspiring rivals. Olivier Giroud’s return to the team would be highly welcome, as Arsenal fans have opened their eyes to see his worth to the team since he was out suspended. There are so many forwards linked to the club, but that business has do be done in the summer.
Should Tottenham fail to grab maximum points in Stamford Bridge, two wins against Wigan and Newcastle will be enough to grant Arsenal Champions League qualification, as Arsene Wenger’s men would have 73 points in the bag. If Chelsea manages to get a draw against Spurs, before beating Aston Villa and Everton, the interim manager would have secured a Champions League berth with 75 points, and should he manage to win Tottenham as well as winning other fixtures, Chelsea would finish the campaign as the third best team in the land with 75 points, with Arsenal grabbing the final Champions League spot, dooming Tottenham to the Europa League.
This ultimately means that the onus is definitely on AVB’s men and it’s fair to say that their own destiny is in their hands. Three wins on the bounce against Chelsea, Stoke and Sunderland would see the Whites grab an impressive 74 points, which would see them usurp Arsenal in fourth place even if the Gunners win Wigan and Newcastle.
The battle for European qualification has been very intense this season, but unfortunately, only two teams can win this war. The million dollar question will be; Who would miss out on Champions League qualification – Chelsea, Arsenal or Tottenham?
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