With everyone’s attention on the ever-changing Premier League title race, the race for fourth place and ultimately a spot in the UEFA Champions League between Arsenal and Everton seems to have fallen by the wayside.
But the chase for Champions League football is as riveting as it’s ever been and with just a point separating these two teams heading into the last four matches, the drama to qualify for Europe’s elite competition will continue.
Since being at the top of the table to start the year, Arsenal have started their decline out of the title conversation, as many predicted they would. Arsene Wenger’s contract is up at the end of the season and many believe that there could be a new manager at the Emirates for the first time since 1996.
With club-record signing Mesut Ozil fighting injury and no true striking target at the front of the Gunners attack, Arsenal's future rests in their ability (or lack thereof) to qualify for the Champions League.
Roberto Martinez’s Everton side have been flirting with the top-four the entire season and anyone that’s been paying close attention to the Toffees shouldn’t be surprised that they sit just a point off of the top four going into the closing stages of the season.
Young and brimming with top-notch talent like Ross Barkley, Gerard Deulofeu and Romelu Lukaku, the 'other' Merseyside club has been causing trouble for the traditional top-dogs in England all season.
Arsenal shot themselves in the foot with a 3-0 loss at Goodison Park on a day where Everton pinged the ball around with ease and looked like a European power and Arsenal a mid-level Premier League club.
Was it a temporary reversal in roles or a sign of what’s to come from Martinez and Everton?
Arsenal took care of West Ham at the Emirates 3-1 on Tuesday, despite Matt Jarvis opening the scoring for the visitors at the end of the first half. It wasn’t their best showing, but Arsenal did finally display some grit and character to come back and win rather comfortably in front of their home supporters.
Everton, on the other hand, absolutely blew a chance to go two points ahead of Arsenal when they lost in embarrassing fashion to bottom-half Crystal Palace 3-2 on Wednesday. Granted, Tony Pullis has Palace playing some of their best football of the season at the right time, but still, there’s no excuse for the Toffees not to grab three points at Goodison Park at this crucial point of the campaign.
With the finish line in sight, Arsenal have a considerably softer schedule to deal with than Everton. They end the season in this order: an away match at Hull City, two consecutive home games with Newcastle and West Brom. They finally cap off the season at Carrow Road when they take on Norwich City on May 11.
Newcastle are always a trickier team to beat even when they’re on the road, but the other three matches should result in three points, no questions asked.
Everton have to maneuver through some of the Premier League’s better squads, ending the year with Manchester United at home, Southampton away, Manchester City at home and Hull away.
I don’t care how poorly United have played at times this season, beating both Manchester squads in the span of three weeks is a tall order to ask of any club. Southampton have lost leading-scorer Jay Rodriguez to injury, but the Saints are dripping with quality and have proven again and again that they’re not to be meddled with.
The race for fourth place will come down to who can perform over the next month of the Premier League season. Even though Arsenal undoubtedly have the cushier journey to end the year, this Everton squad could still pull off a monumental surprise to cap off an already sparkling first season in charge for Martinez.
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