First Brighton became the rock on which both Arsenal and then Tottenham seemed determined to wreck their Champions League dreams on, but then instead of coasting level with their near-neighbours Arsenal’s wavering passage ran adrift yet again down at Southampton. Manchester United, despite their best attempts late on against Norwich, managed to hold onto their three points to shoehorn themselves between the north London pair in the table. But how will the final charge for that fourth position actually pan out over the coming weeks? Express Sport’s Matthew Dunn discusses all the latest Premier League talking points.
ARSENAL NOT STRONG ENOUGH FOR BIG WEEK
Arsenal could be three points clear of Tottenham by the time their north London rivals kick a ball again thanks to a midweek catch-up fixture and the early kick-off next Saturday. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that this season they have lost all bar one of their fixtures against the ‘Big Six sides in the Premier League. And these two games are against Chelsea and Manchester United.
Similarly, their recent reversals against Brighton and most recently against Southampton show a less gleeful approach from Mikel Arteta’s youngsters when they are pitched against opposition willing to get right into them for the duration of 90 minutes.
For all of Arteta’s ‘process’, the Gunners still need a midfield enforcer capable of battling with the likes of N’Golo Kante, Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic, Paul Pogba, or even Scott McTominay. Until that happens, they will continue to be bullied out of the Champions League spots.
UNITED TOO LITTLE TOO LATE
On the weekend that Erik ten Hag fails to add the Dutch Cup to his already sparse CV, Ralf Rangnick’s Manchester United half-heartedly announce themselves as Champions League contenders.
While the future leader of United’s fortunes was busy dropping his goalkeeper and top scorer for a massive showpiece final, United present was left hanging on against the Premier League’s rock-bottom club.
Three points may lift them back into contention for fourth place and a direct clash against Arsenal next weekend could allow them to force the issue. Unfortunately, in the meantime, they face rampant Liverpool, with Chelsea to follow soon after. Nine points out of nine and Rangnick will have earned his Champions League qualification. Much less and it will kill it.
TOTTENHAM UNDER CONTE WILL BE RESTED AND READY
In more ways than one, Brighton was a blip. Not only did the late goal at White Hart Lane end an impressive run of four successive wins, but it was also the first time in nine games that they have lost after spending the week at base camp instead of suffering a midweek game.
Normally, for most of them that means Antonio Conte’s voice roaring in their ears – except Covid robbed them of that. Rest assured, though, that those vocal chords will be fully in action for the remainder of the season to keep his players on their toes.
With full-week preparation periods before Brentford, Leicester and Liverpool – and then again before the final game of the season at Norwich – he will be confident of transmitting enough of his winning mentality to his players to get them over the line.
By contrast, Spurs’ win percentage dropped below 50 when the fixtures were coming thick and fast – a fair sign that a manager like Conte, with the intensity turned up to 11, is really what you need to climb aboard that Champions League gravy train.