Somewhere in the whole battle between Arsenal and Tottenham for the fourth and final ticket to the Champions League next season is the fact that Chelsea might still finish somewhere other than third, but it’s only about playing through the qualifiers or not. For the two North London clubs, playing at White Hart Lane against Sunderland and at St. James’ Park against Newcastle, it’s as real as it can get.
Funny geographical finish to the season: North London rivals playing separately against the Northeastern rivals. Both Sunderland and Newcastle have had very disappointing seasons, in the threat of being relegated for most of it. Sunderland, 39 points, are at the 17th position at the moment, finally clinching survival thanks to Arsenal beating Wigan 4-1 last week. Newcastle, 13th, actually have a chance of finishing with a misleading mid-table finish (as high as 10th) if they mess things up for Arsenal.
Arsenal are actually reaching this match riding a four away-game winning streak, not to mention hardly having anyone missing, although Mikel Arteta is doubtful which does make the defensive midfield situation quite uncomfortable. Newcastle have plenty of injured players to be worried about, but also the fact that they’ve lost 7-3 in their previous meeting with Arsenal, and have beaten them only once out of their last 11 meetings is somewhat of a concern as well.
Tottenham, at home against Sunderland, should have an easier time, although under Paulo Di Canio the Black Cats have been quite undpreidctable, not to mention a lot more fiery in their approach. The big problem for Sunderland is Stephane Sessegnon being suspended from the match, and it’s to expect them for anything but a massive “parking the bus” effort, hoping that their manager doesn’t stay true to his threat of cutting their summer vacation short if their final performance is less than satisfying.
So what about the scenarios? Quite simply. Arsenal are 4th, with one more point than Tottenham. A win for the gunners, and it doesn’t matter what Spurs do. Arsenal will be in the Champions League next season, and have a shot at third if Chelsea mess up on their final match against Everton. Chelsea have two more points than Arsenal. Even if Chelsea lose and Tottenham win, the goal difference is too much to make up for (+35 for Chelsea, +19 for Tottenham).
So how can Tottenham make it in? They must win. A draw wouldn’t be enough because of the goal difference issue, which suggests that Spurs haven’t been all that impressive, especially when it comes to attacking football this season. They must win, and hope for Arsenal to mess up – draw or lose in their match against Newcastle. Any other combination of outcomes keeps the status quo: Arsenal in the Champions League, Tottenham ending up empty handed.