LONDON: The battle for the two outstanding Champions League spots – assuming the Manchester duo will take the top two – is tighter than ever with seven points covering the four clubs concerned and four games to play.
Arsenal, on 65 points in third, have only three games to play. Victory at home to Chelsea on Saturday would have virtually secured group access for them next season. But they never deserved better than a point against a Chelsea side showing eight changes from the starting line-up against Barcelona in midweek.
Chelsea offer one extra, albeit unlikely, complication in the Champions League computation. If – a big ‘if’ – Chelsea win the Champions League but finish fifth in the league then the fourth-placed team will go ‘only’ into the Europa League.
Arsenal had a luckless day. England winger Theo Walcott picked up a hamstring strain which will rule him out of the remainder of the season and they hit the posts twice in the first half as they attemped to regain momentum after Monday’s defeat by Wigan.
Newcastle moved up into fourth place after claiming a convincing victory over Robert Huth’s Stoke thanks to two goals from outstanding Yohan Cabaye.
He fired Newcastle in front after 14 minutes, converting a rebound after a Papiss Cisse header hit the bar. The Frenchman then turned provider four minutes later for Cisse and completed the scoring after 57 minutes on an assist from Demba Ba.
Manager Alan Pardew said: “We have got momentum and that’s a dangerous tool. We are playing with confidence, we are in a fantastic position and everbody is contributing.”
Fading Tottenham slipped further. They have lost all form ever since Fabio Capello quit as England manager and their own Harry Redknapp became odds-on favourite to succeed him. The latest upset was a single-goal dfeat away to struggling Queens Park Rangers.
To rub salt into the wounds the decisive goal was scored by Moroccan Adel Taarabt, once of Spurs. Taarabt arrowed a first-half free kick beyond US keeper Brad Friedel, playing his 300th consecutive Premier League game. He was also sent off for a second yellow card 16 minutes from time but disjointed Tottenham could not capitalise.
Redknapp remains cautiously optimistic that Spurs can, at the least, squeeze back into fourth place. Much of that reasoning is based on the fact that Chelsea host Newcastle on Wednesday, May 2. Chelsea also have to go to Liverpool while Newcastle have to face Manchester City in the penultimate round of matches.
“We’ve got four games left,” said Redknapp, “and we’re probably going to have to win them all. But we are very capable of doing that. I’m confident we can still finish fourth. Chelsea have to play Newcastle – and I can’t see both of them winning that!”
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