The race for Europe
Adam Bate assesses the four clubs battling to qualify for the UEFA Champions League.
By Adam Bate - Tweet me: @GhostGoal
Last Updated: 10/04/12 4:15pm
As the Premier League season draws to a climax, Sky Sports' Adam Bate takes a look at the four clubs battling to qualify for the Champions League.
Which two teams do you think will be joining Manchester United and Manchester City in next season's competition?
Arsenal - top four odds: 1/7
Arsenal find themselves the best placed of the four teams trying to seal one of the two remaining Champions League spots available this season. Indeed, Arsene Wenger's men would surely be disappointed to miss out on the third place that would bring automatic qualification for the Champions League group stages.
It's all a far cry from August when the club appeared to be in meltdown after they followed a home defeat to Liverpool with that 8-2 thrashing at Old Trafford. Wenger's deadline-day signings of Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker and Yossi Benayoun even saw the long-time Arsenal boss become victim of that most unlikely of accusations - panic buying.
And things got worse before they got better when successive January defeats to Fulham, Swansea and Manchester United left the Gunners five points behind Chelsea and a whopping 10 points adrift of arch-rivals Tottenham.
The response since has been remarkable - and in stark contrast to the wobbles of their fellow Champions League chasers. The 7-1 thrashing of Blackburn at the start of February saw things click into place and marked the start of a seven-game winning run that has lifted Arsenal to the brink of a Champions League berth.
Only Manchester United have picked up more points from the last 10 games and with no cup distractions the Gunners appear to have the momentum to finish the job.
After a confidence-boosting defeat of Manchester City in front of their own fans, Wenger is likely to view the April 21 showdown at home to Chelsea as an opportunity to dash their London rivals' hopes rather than a threat to their own ambitions.
And with the Gunners facing Stoke, Norwich and West Brom in their final three games - all sides that are comfortably in mid-table and seemingly with little to play for - they are well-placed to secure Champions League football for a 15th successive season under Wenger.
Tottenham - 4/7
Tottenham's dream season has quickly turned into a nightmare. For much of the autumn, Spurs' free-flowing football lit up the Premier League. The wide options of Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon, coupled with the ingenuity of Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modric, provided a midfield threat that was the envy of the division.
And Harry Redknapp's shrewd summer additions of Brad Friedel, Scott Parker and Emmanuel Adebayor looked to have taken his side to a level where they could genuinely compete for top honours.
Sir Alex Ferguson certainly seemed to think so. "Tottenham at the moment are the best team in the country," said Ferguson in December. "Their form at the moment is the best anywhere and they are definitely title contenders."
A home win against Everton shortly afterwards rammed home the point - taking Redknapp's men level with Manchester United and eight points clear of Chelsea in fourth.
But the manner in which Spurs have fallen away since has been alarming. The derby collapse at the Emirates Stadium that saw Arsenal run out 5-2 winners sparked a sequence of three consecutive defeats. Perhaps even more worryingly, the stylish football that had so entertained the White Hart Lane faithful has been in short supply. After scoring in 22 Premier League matches in a row, Tottenham have failed to find the net in four of their last five away games.
With Redknapp himself rubbishing suggestions that his ongoing link to the vacant England manager's position has proved a distraction, there are no excuses if Spurs fail to secure a top-four spot. And the North London side still have the fixtures to do just that.
Home matches against Blackburn on April 29 and Fulham on the final day should be negotiated so the key to Spurs' season could be whether or not they are able to locate their away form in winnable trips to the relegation threatened trio of QPR, Bolton and Aston Villa.
Newcastle - 100/30
Many expected Newcastle to take the plaudits for an impressive campaign and fade away into the background once the business end of the season approached. In fact, the opposite has proven true. Alan Pardew's men have embarked on a five-match winning run to renew hopes of Champions League football making a return to Tyneside.
The summer acquisitions of Yohan Cabaye and Demba Ba provided the impetus in the early months of the season as Newcastle made an 11-game unbeaten start, with Ba netting 15 goals in his first 19 games for the club.
And just when Newcastle needed a second bout of inspiration, Pardew did the best bit of business of the January transfer window when he signed Papiss Cisse for £10million from Bundesliga club Freiburg. The Senegalese striker has quickly established himself as the Premier League's form forward, netting 10 goals in his first nine games to help lift Newcastle level with fourth-placed Tottenham with just five matches remaining.
The first two of those five games - at home to Stoke before travelling to play Wigan - represent an excellent chance to extend Geordie Champions League hopes into May.
But the real test of Newcastle's mettle could come in the final three games of the season. Newcastle can ill-afford to lose at Chelsea on May 2 and will surely need to pick up something from a difficult last home game against Manchester City on May 6.
And whatever the outcome after the conclusion of their final game of the season against Everton at Goodison Park, Pardew & co can doubtless look back on a year in which they have far exceeded all expectations.
Chelsea - 15/8
Prioritising their aims could be the biggest threat to Chelsea's ambitions of securing Champions League football next season.
Roberto Di Matteo appears to have got the club's season back on track after resurrecting their Champions League campaign on a special night against Napoli at Stamford Bridge last month. But having also guided Chelsea to a Wembley FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham, the Blues risk becoming victims of their own cup success.
In particular, the pivotal Premier League encounter at Arsenal is sandwiched between both legs of their daunting Champions League semi-final against holders Barcelona.
Even if Chelsea's pursuit of trophies comes to an end with twin semi-final defeats, complete focus on the Premier League run-in will be the bare minimum requirement if they are to secure a top-four finish - and no guarantee of success given their remaining fixtures.
The home game against Newcastle on Wednesday May 2 could certainly prove a key evening in the race for the Champions League spots.
But with subsequent matches away to Liverpool and a Stamford Bridge finale against a potentially desperate Blackburn, Di Matteo has a tough challenge ahead if he is to secure Champions League football for a club that has reached the knockout stages of the competition for the past nine seasons.