With the Manchester clubs off and running over the horizon to the promised land of Champions’ League qualification, and the riches and prestige that comes with it, down in the capital, three clubs are battling for the remaining two places. Whilst success will mean renewed belief, the opportunity to retain their best players and the prospect of luring new signings with the promise of competing in the foremost club competition, failure will mean a season of lost opportunity and a tour of Europe’s lesser clubs in the Europa League.
North London pair Arsenal and Spurs, and west London rivals Chelsea are locked in the struggle for the glittering prize, and for each, the cost of failure could be high. Arsenal currently lead the triumvirate with 60 points and five games left to play. Arguably therefore in pole position, the manner of their comeback victory over Norwich at the weekend will have fed the belief that they will maintain their top four consistency over the years. With Aresene Wenger at the helm, there’s every prospect that the club will not be short of experience or know how in the run in.
Chelsea, the current European champions are also a team battle-hardened in the cauldron of European competition. As always seems to be the case, the Blues seem to have that unique ability to dig out the big results when it matters. It’s a quality so important given the club’s heavy workload as the season draws on. Sitting currently in fourth position, they lie two point's behind Arsenal, but have two games in hand on the Gunners.
In fifth place, Tottenham have the same number of points as Chelsea, but have played a game more. With games to come at home to Manchester City, and away to Chelsea, it could also be argued that Spurs have the more difficult run in. This is further compounded by the loss of their talismanic player, Gareth Bale. It’s a matter of conjecture how long Bale will be out for, but should it be any length of time, Tottenham’s task will assume ever larger proportions.
When it comes to what Ferguson calls “squeaky bum time” what makes the difference is not only ability, but also the inherent self-belief, of the squad. This is a difficult one to call, but at the risk of upsetting some people, I’m going to have a go at it. Last season was harsh on Spurs as their fourth place finish was negated in the qualification stakes as Chelsea snaffled the big prize in Bayern’s backyard, meaning that the White Hart Lane club missed out.
Its going to be harsh on whoever misses out this year as well, but I’ve got a feeling that Spurs could be the unlucky team again. It’s essential that they win their next game against City, otherwise a gap could open that will be difficult to drag back as the games drain away. Should they manage a victory however, all bets will be off, and it will go to the wire. Whoever misses out will doubtless have a bad luck story to tell, but that will be no compensation to the club or it’s fans. So near, but it will feel like so far.