Arsenal lose as Spurs & Chelsea both win; has the momentum shifted in the race for a top-four finish?
In a weekend that saw both Chelsea and Tottenham pick up all three points, but Arsenal lose 2 -1 to QPR, the race for fourth became all the more heated.
The two North London sides are equal on points, with Arsene Wenger’s men just edging their rivals on goal difference, whilst Chelsea kept up the chase, just five points away from the much coveted Champions League spot.
The Roberto Di Matteo inspired revolution continued, with a poignant contrast between him and his predecessor securing his side all three points. Earlier in the season, having been 3-0 up against Manchester United, Chelsea imploded allowing their opposition back into the game, ending up with a 3 -3 draw.
After losing a two goal lead, Aston Villa looked set to perform a similar feat, bringing the score back to 2-2.
However the Blues showed the resilience and solidity that this managerial change has achieved, and instead of capitulating under the pressure of an inspired Villa comeback, proceeded to put the tie beyond the hosts.
Branislav Ivanovic regained his team’s lead, before Fernando Torres rounded off an improvement in form, smartly slotting the ball into the bottom left of the goal to ensure his side’s ambition of a top four finish survived.
Arsenal couldn’t boast as impressive a performance as Chelsea, falling victim to a tenacious QPR side fighting for Premier League survival.
Goals from Samba Diakite, and Adel Taarabt either side of Theo Walcott’s goal were enough to ensure Mark Hughes may yet keep Rangers in the top flight, but also dented Arsenal’s hopes of that all important third place.
The Gunners’ North London rivals capitalised on these dropped points, a combination of class and defiance against Swansea led to the hosts winning 3 – 1.
Emmanuel Adebayor’s brace, and Rafael van der Vaart’s stylish opener ensured the score line suggested a more comfortable three points than was actually the case, with Swansea keeping Spurs pegged to 1-1 until the 73rd minute.
This will not bother Harry Redknapp who will feel his side have a real chance of reclaiming the automatic Champions League qualifying position, currently occupied by Arsenal. Each three sides in contention will look forward to their final seven matches, and see very different challenges.
Tottenham have just one of the top eight in the league left to play, compared to Arsenal who have two, and Chelsea who have three.
However, it is not always the top teams that provide the greatest challenge at this stage in the season, and Tottenham’s games against the likes of Bolton, Blackburn, QPR and perhaps even Aston Villa, may prove more difficult now they have the drive of staying up spurring them on. Of these sides, Chelsea have Blackburn, QPR and Wigan left to play, but Arsenal have just Wigan and Wolves.
This means until the end of the season, Arsenal and Tottenham will play three sides with less to compete for, destined for mid-table mediocrity, whilst Chelsea will play just one, and have to juggle their Champions League aspirations as well.
Chelsea therefore have the toughest remainder to the season and as the team with a five-point gap to close, Champions League football next season is the North London clubs’ to lose.
Neither Arsenal nor Tottenham will settle for fourth however, both having experienced how tricky the initial qualifying round that ending in fourth brings with it.
Having the momentum is an important factor at these closing stages, and there can be no denying that until this weekend it was with Arsenal. However, Tottenham will take heart from a fantastic display against Brendan Rodgers’ team, who have won many plaudits for their slick passing game.
Contrastingly Arsenal will have had their confidence knocked, and may allow an air of tentativeness to enter their game next time they come up against relegation battlers.
This may prove to be the weekend that momentum shifted, but it will not be the week where any side ensured a top four finish – Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea still have it all to play for.