By Andrew Leci
A few words of warning; I’m going to be mischievous.
This weekend, I would like to see a draw for Arsenal, a win for Tottenham Hotspur and defeat for Chelsea.
This is not because of any particular allegiance – as a presenter, if there’s ever a temptation to wear your heart on your sleeve, it’s invariably covered by a jacket when in the studio – but because it would take all three clubs on to 61 points, with barely a smattering of games remaining until the end of the season.
As Manchester United cantered away with the title, the most fascinating subplot to develop has been that involving the race for UEFA Champions League spots.
Spurs looked to be in control of one of them a couple of months ago, but have faltered. Arsenal appeared to be on the periphery of the picture at roughly the same time, but have been resurgent of late, while Chelsea, who’ve just played their 60th game of the season in all competitions, have managed to lurch consistently through much of the campaign, which is no mean feat.
Accepting the premise that Manchester City have all but sewn up second place, and Everton have left themselves a little bit too much to do, third and fourthwill go to two of the three London clubs, and one will be left bitterly disappointed, probably with a Europa League campaign to ‘look forward to’ next season. I’m not being disrespectful of the competition itself, but it does appear to be regarded (at least in England) as the one remaining chocolate in an assorted box, after everyone has had their pick. It may end up being quite tasty, but you wouldn’t have chosen it.
For Arsenal, finishing outside the top four would be unthinkable, and indeed unprecedented in the Arsene Wenger era. For Chelsea, it would be a disaster that owner Roman Abramovich is unlikely to countenance, and for Spurs it would almost be par for the course – if you train your ear in the direction of North London you may already be able to hear the sighs of resignation.
So, Fulham and Arsenal to draw at Craven Cottage on Saturday; Spurs to edge Manchester City in the early game on Sunday; and then Chelsea to lose at Anfield later that day; it’s a scenario that would ratchet up the tension a few more notches, and keep all us neutrals on the edges of our seats all the way through to the final day.
Heading into the midweek fixtures, Arsenal had the momentum after seven wins in eight games, but they were bullied by Everton at the Emirates, and dropped a couple of points.
Chelsea then grabbed the initiative, putting Fulham to the sword at Craven Cottage on Wednesday night, as Spurs looked on fretfully, entreating alumni Dimitar Berbatov and Martin Jol to help them out, but to no avail.
As we head into the weekend, the fascinating aspect of this three way skirmish is that two out of the three teams are in control of their own destiny, and one isn’t. If Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur win all their remaining games, then they will finish in the top four.
If Arsenal win all their remaining games, it may not be enough for a top four finish, but there’s only one scenario that could prevent them from achieving their aim.
If it’s all getting a little confusing - I’m on my fourth draft of this piece, so it probably is - the key to explaining this conundrum is an event that will take place on the May 8, at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea host Spurs, and one of the two sides will drop points. It’s inevitable. It’s one of those things that happen in football. It’s worth looking, albeit briefly (as this is already giving me a headache) at the permutations.
The maximum number of points Chelsea are now capable of accruing is 79. For Spurs, who have a game in hand on Arsenal, the total is 76, and for Arsenal, it’s 75.
Bearing the 8th of May in mind, it’s impossible for both Chelsea and Spurs to achieve their possible maxima, and Arsenal will be lying in wait to take advantage; possibly.
A win for Chelsea, and 79 points for the season remains a possibility (although it is worth mentioning that they have games at Anfield and Old Trafford to negotiate before the campaign draws to a close). This would mean that Spurs’ possible maximum is reduced to 73.
In the event of a draw, Chelsea’s possible haul becomes 77, and Tottenham’s 74, and in the event of a Spurs win at The Bridge, Chelsea will only be able to amass 76 points, while Tottenham’s total also rises to 76.
In an obstinate and difficult to crack nutshell then; Chelsea can afford to lose against Spurs (as long as they win all their other games) and still finish in the top four, while Arsenal will very much be hoping that they don’t.
That’s the possible scenario, and it presupposes far too much. There’s plenty of football to be played until Spurs’ possible date with destiny in West London, and just for fun, I should point out that Tottenham Hotspur haven’t won a game at Chelsea (in any competition) in the Premier League era. Sorry, couldn’t resist it.
It’s time to put down my abacus now since it’s simply too hot to handle. One can speculate and project with all the attendant optimism of an insurance salesman or the pessimism of an environmental scientist, and everything will probably change after the dust has settled on the forthcoming weekend.
Suffice it to say that the race to the pot of gold that seems to lie at one end of the Champions League rainbow is going right down to the wire, with Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs all knowing that all they have to do is win all their remaining games to sample its riches. Simple really.
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