Premier League: Can Tottenham Qualify for the Champions League Ahead of Arsenal?
What a difference a season can make.
After 27 games of the last campaign, Andres Villas-Boas was given his marching orders from Stamford Bridge, having guided Chelsea to fifth position in the Premier League, below London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham.
After 27 games in 2012/13, AVB finds his Spurs side in third place, having edged past his former employer Chelsea with a dramatic late goal from man-of-the-hour Gareth Bale at West Ham on Monday.
Tottenham's North London rivals Arsenal, meanwhile, sit in fifth place, two points away from the "fourth place trophy" that Arsene Wenger invented last season to placate fans tired of their silverware drought.
In Premier League history, Spurs have only finished above Arsenal twice: in 1994/95 (when George Graham was sacked as Arsenal manager) and in 1992/93, when they finished a lowly eighth and tenth respectively.
Only an Arsenal win on the final day of last season prevented Tottenham from prying the allegorical fourth place trophy from Wenger's hands, which is something Villas-Boas' squad are intent on doing in this campaign.
Their highly coveted asset Gareth Bale says his side have "overtaken [Arsenal] on the pitch," and that they have a stronger squad.
Perhaps drawing attention to the criticism that Tottenham rely so heavily on a certain Welshman, Scott Parker says Gareth Bale has "deflated" Arsenal's quest for a top four spot.
Manu Adebayor, meanwhile, is determined to justify his move across London by earning a spot in Europe's premier club competition.
The Race for Fourth Place is framed nicely by this weekend's North London derby, which has significant implications in its 174th iteration.
Hosts Tottenham are in full momentum, having not lost a home game since early November, and boasting one of the most in-form players in the world.
Arsenal, meanwhile, have a manager under pressure, a board being scrutinized by fans for profiteering and the prospect of losing the Champions League place they have taken for granted for 15 successive seasons.
The Gunners could close the gap on Tottenham to a single point this weekend, but they haven't won a league game at White Hart Lane since 2007. In fact, they have only won two league encounters at the Lane in the past thirteen seasons.
Current scoring rates suggest fourth place is Tottenham's to lose. Star player Gareth Bale has scored eight goals in his past six outings. Arsenal have only scored five goals in their last six games!
Theo Walcott has notched up 22 goals in all competitions this season, but he has not found the net in any of his last five outings.
Furthermore, last season's Ligue 1 top scorer Olivier Giroud is not adequately filling the boots of the departed Robin van Persie. As eplindex.com recently noted, the Frenchman only scores on average every 167 minutes on the field, and he lacks in almost every statistical department in comparison with the prolific Dutchman.
So, bragging rights, a lucrative European campaign and a French manager's job all seem to depend on the outcome of the next 11 games.
Six of Arsenal's remaining opponents are in the bottom half, while only four of Tottenham's upcoming challengers are currently below the fold.
However, operating under the assumption that results will go the same way in these eleven matches as they did in the corresponding fixtures earlier in the season, Tottenham will earn five wins and a draw, or 16 points. Arsenal will earn six wins and two draws, or 20 points.
Mathematics fans may realize that this would put both sides on 67 points at the conclusion of the season, which means Arsenal will finish higher only if they maintain their superior goal difference.
Curiously, if you perform the same assumption on Chelsea's remaining fixtures, they will earn four wins and four draws, or 16 points. This would leave them on 65 points, in fifth place, with both their London rivals qualifying for the Champions League ahead of them. Judging by the perceived morale at Chelsea right now, a second consecutive finish outside the top four does not seem unreasonable.
To conclude, Arsenal and Tottenham are two of the most in-form teams in the league right now—only Manchester Utd have generated more points from their last six games. Tottenham may feel confident of vindicating their 5-2 loss at the Emirates in November based on the electric form of their Welsh Wizard, but their league positioning is going to be a photo finish. Yet if Chelsea's woes continue, there will be celebration across North London on the final day of the season.
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