Everton v Arsenal v Liverpool v Tottenham.
While it's not a forgone conclusion that, Manchester United, Chelsea, and Manchester City will take up the top three spots again this season, (and for myself, I believe Chelsea will come out on top), for the purposes of this, I am going to assume for a moment that they will. While the tussle at the top will be doubtless intriguing to watch, with many a twist and turn along the way, for many fans the fight for the final Champions League spot is what keeps the excitement going. One point was the margin between qualification and failure in the past two seasons, both of which saw Arsene Wenger's Arsenal pip Tottenham to the post. This year, with Liverpool and Spurs so far managing to hold on to their key players and strengthening their squads, Arsenal, it appears, may well have to place faith in the same team who finished so strongly last season. Everton, complete with new manager, have also added proven Premiership striker and FA Cup winner Arouna Koné to their ranks and will be wanting to maintain their league position above Liverpool, and if possible, even more.
So, who has the strength to be what amounts to, "the best of the rest", this year? Here's my take, based on the teams at the moment. If Bale and Suarez move, everything changes, but for now, they have to be presumed to be going nowhere.
While everyone loves a trier, with the loss of David Moyes to Man United, I can't see Everton managing to improve on last season's 6th place. In fact, given Liverpool's strengthening I fear last year's finishing above them may well be the last time that happens for some time. With Phil Neville also gone, and the possibility of either Arsenal or Man United whisking away Marouane Fellaini hanging over the club can't help the mood in the dressing room. Losses to Valencia and Real Madrid in preseason may mean little, but certainly won't help moral, although a win on pens against Juventus will have done no harm.
Arsenal, Liverpool, and Spurs, will all finish above them this season. Threats from Newcastle, Swansea, Sunderland and West Brom should also be kept an eye upon. 6th could easily turn to 10th if form dips against the wrong teams at the wrong times.
My club are in trouble. Gone are the days where stars were beating down the door to play for Arsenal. Perception of a club who are O.K. with taking the money of the supporters while not spending out on world class players, is rendering Arsenal impotent in a market which they now claim to be able to compete with the biggest in the world in. The best players want trophies, and for the last few seasons it has been abundantly clear that Arsenal is not the place to procure them. Tottenham's perennial last 10 games collapse is the only thing which has kept Arsenal from falling out of the top four, as even with last season's run of form, had Spurs picked up one more win, it would be UEFA cup time for the gunners. Given the trickiness of the trip to Fenebache in August, a period where Arsenal could and should hit the ground running in the league, it's possible that maybe Arsene Wenger may rue the complications, the ups and downs, not to mention the travel, which comes from this year's European adventure. Realistically Arsenal are not equipped to win the Champions League, but the extra games could cost them next years position too.
Painfully, I think Spurs and Liverpool will finish above Arsenal this season. The team simply isn't strong enough. One injury to Giroud or Walcott, and serious issues are afoot. Acquire at least 2 quality signings between now and the transfer window's closure, and everything might be different.
Brendan Rodgers is a man with a plan. He understands the size of the club he is at, and is absolutely prepared to put his head on the line for them. Tradition in Liverpool runs deep. History drapes around the club's shoulders, but sometimes threatens to smother it. 7th last season, and 8th the season before, is not good enough for a club of Liverpool's stature, and the ignominy of Everton, local city rivals, finishing above them, in both of the aforementioned season's, only serves to underline that something has to change. So, Rodgers has bought, and bought well. Luis Alberto is a star in the making, Kolo Toure still an excellent defender, Simon Mignolet a classy keeper, Iago Aspas, scoring 1 in 3 (50 in 153 appearances) for Celta Vigo, has the new number 9 shirt, and Philippe Coutinho, the Brazilian attacking midfielder looks exceptional. If Suarez stays, the firepower there is enough to scare any team, and at Anfield, they practically have an extra man in the form of their support.
Last season Liverpool won 5 less games than both Liverpool and Arsenal, finishing 12 points behind the 4th place spot. This will change this time around. It could be another season where it comes down to the wire, I just envisage it to be a differing pair involved than in the last two terms.
Unlucky for the last two years, especially after missing out on a technicality when Chelsea took Spurs's rightful spot, I feel their history of capitulation in the final quarter of the season is over. Strong throughout the team, and with players added, they can challenge anyone on their day. Consistency is the issue, and that comes with confidence, which should be abundant as they watch their arch rivals fail in the transfer window while having secured players like the Spanish international Soldado and the Brazilian Paulinho into their ranks. With Gareth Bale, they have a world class player, without him, they have the funds for 2 or 3 world class players! It's a win/win situation although I suspect every Spurs fan would keep Bale without hesitation. Scorer of 1 goal short of a 33% of all Spurs's goals in the league last season, the reinforcements purchased by André Villas-Boas will take the pressure off Bale should he remain, but also actually enable him to play with even more freedom and thus, he may even better his tally.
Spurs look full of goals, and capable of fulfilling their own goals at the same time. Unless something major happens negatively to them. or something very positive comes Arsenal's way, then 4th is Spurs's for the taking. Start well enough, and it's possible they could even go higher.