Former Chelsea star Alan Hudson has tipped the Blues and Tottenham to qualify for the Champions League next season, along with Manchester City and Manchester United, at the expense of another of his old clubs, Arsenal. In an exclusive interview with B/R, the ex-England midfielder explained why he feels the Gunners will miss out on top-flight European football next term for the first time since 1997.
How do you see the battle for a top-four Premier League slot panning out over the coming weeks?
By the end of the season it’s going to be like the relegation zone, with three teams going for the two remaining slots.
With Arsenal getting knocked out of the Champions League this week it’s vital that they get into the competition again, because they’re not going to win anything else. They’ve always been in it, and that’s all Arsene Wenger has been talking about—he thinks it’s good enough just to get into the Champions League—but I don’t see it happening this season. They’re in real danger of being outside the top four.
Presumably, you see Tottenham and Chelsea finishing above Arsenal, then. Why is that?
I strongly fancied Tottenham to beat Arsenal the other weekend, mainly because of the form of Gareth Bale, and he’s the main reason why I reckon Spurs will finish above Arsenal. I just don’t think Arsenal has anyone in their armoury to compare to him.
With all their money, Chelsea shouldn’t be vying for fourth place, they should have had a Champions League slot sewn up already.
How big a blow would that be for Arsenal to finish outside the top four?
Well, Arsenal fans will say we finished above everyone below us, because they’re always looking for excuses. But it would be the acid test for Wenger, and it might decide how long he’s going to stay there. However, I think he’s so powerful a figure at the club, they can’t sack him anyway.
It would certainly be a rude awakening for him to see the club not in the Champions League, and in the ‘Thursday Night’ cup instead. The trouble is his team isn’t good enough to win the Premier League, and when you’re 20-plus points behind Manchester United you are in trouble—because even Manchester United isn't that great.
If Arsenal don’t make the top four this season, whose fault is that?
It’s the manager’s. Since he got rid of the back four he inherited from George Graham, I don’t think he’s replaced them with anybody with any great credentials, and that’s when they stopped winning things. On top of that they’ve sold their best players. I don’t think he sold them to get money; I think they all wanted to leave, because they were fed up with winning nothing. That’s a real motivation for a footballer. At Chelsea we won the FA Cup in 1970, the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1971 and not then winning something the next year, well, it was terrible, just terrible. Winning is the name of the game.
So, having ruled out Arsenal, you must be pretty confident of Chelsea’s and Tottenham’s chances?
I think they will get in, not because they are that good, but because Arsenal are incapable. I think Chelsea will finish third because Tottenham have become a bit of a one-man team, with their reliance on Bale. He’s their main goalscorer but they need more goals from other players. I don’t know how Emmanuel Adebayor gets a game up front, for instance. Without Bale I think Tottenham would be mid-table, to be honest.
Perhaps the one concern for Chelsea is fixture congestion during the run-in, with their involvement in both the FA Cup and Europa League. Could that affect their chances of making a top-four finish?
No, I don’t think so. We used to play three games in four days over Easter, and I didn’t feel exhausted at the end. Modern-day players should be able to cope playing twice a week, especially with all the medical and fitness advice and assessment they’ll be getting.
Chelsea’s main problem is that you can watch them one week and they win easily, and then when they come up against good, strong opposition, like Manchester City a few weeks ago, you can tell from the start they won’t win. But it’s not just against the top teams that happens, because they also lost at Stamford Bridge to QPR, so you’d be foolish to put them down as a home banker in any game.
Finally, do you see either Everton or Liverpool having any chance of coming up with a late run and getting into the Champions League?
The one team I’d love to see breaking into the top four is Everton, because David Moyes has performed absolute miracles at the club. I know Bill Kenwright, the Everton chairman, and if he had Roman Abramovich’s money, Everton would be in the Champions League and probably winning it, because that’s all they’re short of—money. Their play, their attitude and the way they play for the manager is all excellent, but they just lack quality in depth in the squad. Moyes has to go second-best when he buys players because of the lack of cash, but he’s a good judge of a player as you can see with many of his signings.
I don’t see Liverpool breaking through either. Yes, they’re on a good run, but it’s probably come just a bit too late for them. They’ve probably got the best striker in the Premier League in Luis Suarez, mind you.