As Chelsea face the possibility of being crowned European champions and therefore nullifying fourth spot, the race for third is vital ahead of the last day of the season
By Chris Davie
As we approach the final day of the campaign, not only is the fate of the Premier League title still unresolved, but three teams remain in the hunt to secure an automatic place in the Champions League next season.
Arsenal occupy third spot and they travel to West Brom for their final game of the season in the knowledge that a victory would see them finish in their current position.
Tottenham sit a point behind Arsene Wenger's charges and only a win against Fulham at White Hart Lane will keep them in contention to potentially nab third.
Meanwhile, fifth-placed Newcastle United are this season's surprise package, and Alan Pardew's men are in need of one final performance as they face a tough trip to Everton.
But which team deserves to finish the season safe in the knowledge that their place in the Champions League group stages is already in the bag? Goal.com weighs up the case each side makes...
Failure to directly replace Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri following their departures last summer, coupled with just two wins from their opening seven Premier League games made for a nightmare start at Arsenal.
It may have taken until December for Wenger to declare his side out of the title race but realistically, Arsenal were gone by the start of October as they found themselves 12 points adrift of the two Manchester clubs who had set a commanding benchmark.
But Wenger has since guided Arsenal to two separate eight-game unbeaten runs in the league, which has kept the club in the hunt for a spot in the Champions League.
Furthermore, the signing of Lukas Podolski before the conclusion of the current campaign suggests Wenger could be a changed man from the one who appeared in a fluster during the transfer window last summer, so a revamped Arsenal would be a welcome sight in Europe's elite competition.
Arsenal have coughed and spluttered their way over the finish line with three draws and a defeat in their last four outings.
Injuries have not helped. Per Mertesacker, Mikel Arteta and Theo Walcott were all ruled out before Arsenal's final match against West Brom on Sunday, while Bacary Sagna's broken leg sustained in the club's draw against Norwich City last Saturday means Wenger's lack of foresight in the transfer market has left him short of options ahead of such a vital game.
Tottenham proved last summer that player power can be contained after denying Luka Modric the chance to move to Chelsea. As well as retaining the services of the Croatian, the club also managed to keep Gareth Bale at White Hart Lane and strengthened with the permanent signings of Scott Parker and Brad Friedel, while the loan acquisition of Emmanuel Adebayor also proved to be an astute piece of business.
Harry Redknapp must also be praised for placing his trust in the mercurial Kyle Walker, whose performances have seen him scoop the PFA Young Player of the Year as well as bolster his chances for a place in England's Euro 2012 squad.
Barring their two resounding defeats at the start of the season to both Manchester clubs, Tottenham have relied upon an attractive brand of free-flowing football to guide them into Champions League contention, bringing entertainment value to the table in the process.
The resignation of Fabio Capello sparked a vast number of calls for Harry Redknapp to succeed the Italian as England boss - but at a heavy cost to Tottenham's season, or so it would seem.
Since Capello parted with the Football Association on February 8, Spurs have secured just four wins in 13 Premier League games. Coincidence? Perhaps. But the argument is there to suggest the speculation distracted Redknapp's players as they embarked on the crucial part of their bid to obtain Champions League football for next season.
At one point, third was Tottenham's to lose, while Redknapp has gone from ambitiously suggesting his side can win the title to claiming a place in the top four is still within Spurs' grasp.
Pardew has worked wonders at Newcastle United this season and has continued to keep his side in the hunt for a Champions League place against the predictions of those who felt the club would tail off towards the end of the campaign.
The acquisitions of Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye have been a revelation but both have arguably been topped by the signing of Papiss Cisse, whose goals have been sublime as well as vital to the second half of Newcastle's season. Davide Santon has adapted well at left-back in his debut term, while Pardew has also brought out the best in Hatem Ben Arfa, who returned from a broken leg he sustained in October 2010.
It's difficult to argue against a team who have been a welcome surprise to the usual suspects vying for a spot in the Champions League this season.
Depending on the level of commitment from the players, Pardew may have a job convincing the likes of Cheikh Tiote, Cabaye, Cisse and Ba to remain at the club if other sides come calling this summer, although there should be no problem if Newcastle are able to leapfrog Arsenal and Tottenham on Sunday.
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