SPORTS: Recap of English Premier League Battle for the Top Four

by Reid Murray ’22

Published on May 13, 2019

The 2018-2019 Premier League season has brought us a down-to-the-wire race for the league title, some great derbies, the rise of the Wolverhampton Wanderers, and recently, the impressive play of Everton FC. But one of the most intriguing parts of the season has been the battle for the top four and qualifying for next year’s UEFA Champions League, which consists of the top teams from leagues all across Europe. All the way to the last two weeks of the season, Chelsea FC, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal FC, and Manchester United have been battling for a spot in the top 4 of the league’s standings, which would give them a spot in the 2019-2020 Champions League season.

Of the four teams competing for top 4 late in the season, Chelsea was the first to clinch it. After they defeated Watford at home and Arsenal drew with Brighton at home, Chelsea rose to third place and had their spot in next year’s Champions League guaranteed. Although there has been some talk of sacking manager Maurizio Sarri, he has proven to be able to lead his team well, as they have clinched the top four, gotten second place in the EFL Carabao Cup, and made it to the final of the Europa League vs Arsenal. (which is the secondary European competition)

Tottenham have had a very up and down season. They won only two out of their ten games against top six sides this season, one of which was a 4-2 loss to their arch nemesis Arsenal. Despite their struggles against the big clubs of England, it has been their consistent success against the smaller ones that has helped them remain in the top of the table for so long. They have won all of their matches against Leicester City, Crystal Palace, Newcastle, Brighton, Cardiff City, Fulham, and Huddersfield Town. After their final fixture of the season against Everton, they just beat out Arsenal and finished in the number four spot of the league. This means that next season, they will once again play in the Champions League. In this year’s Champions League season, they have proved that they are more than worthy of competing in the prestigious competition. They have made it all the way to the finals, after making a fantastic three-goal comeback against Ajax. In addition, they were able to take down very good squads such as Borussia Dortmund and back-to-back Premier League champion Manchester City. In the Champions League Final, they will face Liverpool, who they have two 2-1 losses to this season.

Fifth place Arsenal have also been inconsistent this season. After losing the first two games of the season to top four sides, they went 22 games unbeaten across all competitions (including Premier League, Europa League, and Carabao Cup). As their successes started to pile up, supporters of Arsenal began to get very hopeful and cocky, which ended up catching up to them in the later games of the season. In March and April, an away draw against Tottenham and home wins against Manchester United and Newcastle put Arsenal ahead of Tottenham. However, while the Gunners’ supporters were singing, “Tottenham, mind the gap,” some of their issues began to come back to haunt them. The mistakes from Shkodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka, the injury of Aaron Ramsey, and the inconsistency of Mesut Özil proved to be too much to handle for AFC. In the final 7 games of the season, Arsenal only picked up (if they beat Burnley) 7 out of 21 possible points (if they draw with Burnley) 5 out of 21 possible points (if they lose to Burnley) 4 out of 21 possible points. These games include embarrassing losses to Crystal Palace, Wolves, and Leicester City, as well as a weak home draw with Brighton. However, even after not making the top four, there is still another way for Arsenal to make the Champions League. They will face Chelsea in the Europa League final on May 29, and although Chelsea is a difficult team to beat, it could be done. Arsenal have been playing remarkably better in the Europa League than they have been in the Premier League and a Europa League championship would give Arsenal an automatic bid to next year’s Champions League.

Manchester United’s season has been filled with uncharacteristic struggles, making it one of the most interesting and crazy seasons that they’ve had in a while. They began the season with match after match being dangerously close wins, draws, or losses to bottom-of-the-table clubs, including a loss to Brighton and draws with Crystal Palace and Southampton. Used to large success, Man U fans and owners had had enough of their losing form. This, in addition to disagreements and drama with mercurial midfielder Paul Pogba, led to manager José Mourinho being fired on December 18. New manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær took over at Old Trafford and Man U had immediate success. In the beginning, the supporters couldn’t say enough good things about him, but as the season progressed, that changed. The last quarter of the season brought a 4-0 loss to Everton, a loss to cross-town rivals Manchester City and a home draw with Chelsea. These matches, as well as the several dropped points from the beginning of the season, are what kept Man U out of the top four. In addition to these losses, Man U were recently eliminated from the Champions League by FC Barcelona, by a brutal score of 4-0, so missing out on the Champions League next season will hurt. However, the last time they were in the Europa League, 2017, they won the final against Ajax, which could bring some optimism to the supporters of Man U.