Premier League top-four race for Champions League qualification analysed by form, fixtures and Sky Sports pundit Alan Smith

Arsenal, West Ham, Tottenham & Man Utd in race for Champions League qualification; Wolves, Brighton & Leicester the outsiders in top-four chase; watch the race for the top four unfold live on Sky Sports, starting with Arsenal's trip to Spurs, live on Sky Sports on Sunday; kick-off 4.30pm


With Manchester City pulling away at the summit and Chelsea and Liverpool on course for a top-three finish, Arsenal, West Ham, Tottenham, Man Utd, Wolves, Brighton and Leicester look set to battle it out for a top-four finish.

As it stands, 12 points divide fourth-placed West Ham and 10th-placed Leicester, and if games in hand are taken into consideration, there are seven sides in realistic contention to finish fourth and qualify for the Champions League.

Here, with the help of Sky Sports' Alan Smith, we assess the runners and riders in the battle for fourth, their form and their fixtures until the end of the season...

The table...

Smith: Top three look set

Sky Sports' Alan Smith on current top three in the Premier League:

"There's a seven point gap to Liverpool in third so it looks like it will be difficult to catch Jurgen Klopp's side, Chelsea and the league leaders Manchester City.

"I know there are games in hand for plenty of teams but City, Chelsea and Liverpool are the three best teams in the country.

"Pep Guardiola's side are the best by some distance, to be honest, but those three teams will make up the top three I'm sure."

The fixtures...

West Ham

Mark Noble celebrates with teammates after scoring West Ham's third goal (AP)

Position: 4th
Games played: 21
Points: 37
Top-four Sky Bet odds: 5/1
Active cup competitions: Europa League and FA Cup

West Ham had a fantastic start to the season. Under David Moyes the Hammers were flying high and looked real contenders for the top four. However, despite wins at home against Liverpool and Chelsea, they did suffer a bit of a recent blip with back-to-back defeats to Wolves and Man City in November before successive defeats to Arsenal and Southampton in December.

They have responded well, though, and wins against Watford, Crystal Palace and Norwich in their last three outings have put them firmly back in the race for Champions League qualification. Their run-in to the season does look tricky, however, with trips to Manchester United, Leicester, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Brighton to come. They also face Wolves, Arsenal and Man City at home so if they are going to reach the top four they will have to do it the hard way.

Key fixtures: Manchester United (A) - Saturday Jan 22; kick-off 3pm, Leicester (A) - Sunday Feb 13; kick-off 4.30pm (live on Sky), Wolves (H) - Saturday Feb 26; kick-off 3pm, Liverpool (A) - Sunday March 5; kick-off 3pm, Tottenham (A) - Saturday March 19; kick-off 3pm, Chelsea (A) - Saturday April 23; kick-off 3pm, Arsenal (H) - Saturday April 30; kick-off 3pm, Man City (H) - Sunday May 15; kick-off 3pm, Brighton (A) -Sunday May 22, kick-off 4pm.

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Sky Sports' Alan Smith:

"The job David Moyes is doing at West Ham is quite something.

"They did have a bit of a blip when they lost league games to Arsenal and Southampton, and went out of the Carabao Cup at the hands of Spurs, but they have bounced back. They've got Michail Antonio back in the side, which makes a huge difference to them.

"It's not a big squad in terms of quality. I don't think they can afford too many injuries, especially in those forward positions, but they have coped without Kurt Zouma and Angelo Ogbonna to a certain extent. Moyes has got a very tight grip on that squad.

"Once again, they've had an amazing season so far and they just keep on going. It's been great to see because many people wrote Moyes off as yesterday's man, but he's shown everyone how good he is and he's proved a lot of people wrong.

"They've coped with playing in the Europa League really well so far this season. They've taken the addition of that competition in their stride with Moyes rotating quite cleverly to get the job done. They are a very definite contender for fourth. There is no doubt about that. They are a very hard-working side, they are certainly no pushovers anymore and defensively they know what they are about.

"Having Europe to contend with has probably been a bit of a new experience for a lot of the West Ham players, but they've gone about it really well, and it should stand them in good stead as we approach the business end of the season."

'January transfer window can have an impact on top four race'

Sky Sports' Alan Smith on the January transfer window:

"We always say January is not an easy month to improve your squad but the recruitment teams within the various teams have obviously been working hard on that over the last few months.

"Sometimes you get a signing out of nowhere, that nobody saw coming and it can make a big difference.

"It's a very difficult thing to get done but what happens in the January transfer window could well decide what happens at the end of May."


PA - Mikel Arteta

Position: 5th
Games played: 20
Points: 35
Top-four Sky Bet odds: 9/4
Active cup competitions: Carabao Cup

Arsenal endured a torrid opening to the season, losing their opening three matches to suffer their worst start to a season in 67 years. They were rock bottom of the Premier League with Mikel Arteta under pressure, but the Spaniard has overseen a remarkable recovery at the Emirates Stadium.

The Gunners currently sit in fourth and are one of the in-form teams in the league, but they face a crucial test to their top-four credentials when they visit north London rivals Tottenham, live on Sky Sports on Super Sunday.

Key fixtures: Tottenham (A) - Sunday Jan 16; kick-off 4.30pm (live on Sky), Wolves (A) - Thursday Feb 10; kick-off 7.45pm, Leicester (H) - Saturday March 12; kick-off 3pm, Brighton (H), Saturday April 9; kick-off 3pm, Manchester United (H), Saturday April 23; kick-off 3pm, West Ham (A) - Saturday April 30; kick-off 3pm, Chelsea (A) - TBC, Liverpool (H), TBC.

Sky Sports' Alan Smith:

"The Gunners look firmly in the mix for that last Champions League spot, especially if they can keep up the level of performance they showed against Manchester City last time out.

"I did have my doubts about Mikel Arteta's side. It was obvious they were improving under the Spaniard but as to whether they could clinch fourth was another matter. However, I think the Man City performance, irrespective of the result, gave every Arsenal fan and anybody involved in the club a great deal of confidence.

"Now, there's no reason why they can't look at that fourth place and think they are in with a great chance.

"What Arsenal will need to do is shed that tag of being flat-track bullies and show they can continue to compete with the best, especially with trips to Spurs and Chelsea not far away.

"The signs against City were very promising and the thing about Arsenal is there is a stability about them in terms of their team. Apart from one or two places maybe you can say what their best team is and Arteta is managing that well.

"At the moment, they've not had too many injuries to key players and if they can hold that all together there is a great understanding between them all. Everybody knows their individual roles and that has to stand them in good stead as we get into the final stages of the season."


Antonio Conte speaks to Tottenham's Lucas Moura during the Europa Conference League group G soccer match against Vitesse (AP)

Position: 6th
Games played: 18
Points: 33
Top-four Sky Bet odds: 15/8
Active cup competitions: Carabao Cup and FA Cup

Tottenham are looking much more threatening under the guidance of Antonio Conte, but, as the manager himself has admitted regularly since arriving in north London, there is still plenty of work to be done if they are to finish inside the Premier League's top four.

Their next three league fixtures could prove to be key to those chances as they host north London rivals Arsenal next Sunday, live on Sky Sports, before travelling to Leicester three days later. They then travel across London to face Conte's former employers Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, which is also live on Sky Sports on January 23. They also face trips to Manchester to face both City and United in the run-in, while they also face Liverpool at Anfield before the season is out.

That's not to mention the two games in hand that still have to be fitted in, which could lead to fixture congestion as we reach the business end of the season.

Key fixtures: Arsenal (A) - Sunday Jan 16; kick-off 4.30pm (live on Sky), Leicester (A) - Wednesday Jan 19; kick-off 7.30pm, Chelsea (A) - Sunday Jan 23; kick-off 4.30 (live on Sky), Wolves (H) - Sunday Feb 13; kick-off 2pm, Man City (A) - Saturday Feb 19; kick-off 5.30pm (live on Sky), Manchester United (A) - Saturday Mar 12; kick-off 3pm, West Ham (H) - Saturday Mar 19; kick-off 3pm, Brighton (H) - Saturday Apr 16; kick-off 3pm, Leicester (H) - Saturday Apr 30; kick-off 3pm, Liverpool (A) - Saturday May 7; kick-off 3pm.

Sky Sports' Alan Smith:

"Antonio Conte has achieved quite a lot in a very short space of time at Tottenham.

"There is still a lot of work to do at Spurs but in terms of the short term fix, Conte has gone about it cleverly in order to give him some time. As he said after the defeat to Chelsea in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final, he needs time and patience in order to overhaul that team and get it back to what it was at times under Mauricio Pochettino.

"I think there are a few more questions marks in the starting line-up than there is within West Ham and Arsenal. The defence can certainly be improved in terms of individual quality and he mixes and matches at times in midfield, but they do have a great three-man strike force.

"Conte has got his work cut out, though. To finish fourth would be a fantastic achievement for the Italian.

"Conte will be the key for Spurs if they are to get into the top four. You'd imagine he has funds to improve the squad otherwise he wouldn't have taken the job. So, it will be interesting to see what happens in January and then in the summer and what kind of player he goes for.

"It was a sobering performance from Spurs against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and it maybe made him realise the job is even bigger than he thought."

Manchester United

Ralf Rangnick

Position: 7th
Games played: 19
Points: 31
Top-four Sky Bet odds: 15/8
Active cup competitions: Champions League and FA Cup

Manchester United have picked up points since the arrival of Ralf Rangnick, but the performances under the German have flattered to deceive somewhat. Defeat to Wolves at Old Trafford in their last outing cranked up the pressure on Rangnick as he looks to keep United in the Champions League next season.

It promises to be a tricky second part of the season for Cristiano Ronaldo and co as they look to climb the table and close the gap to Arsenal and West Ham. They do have a game in hand, but with fixtures against many of the sides above them coming up, and reported problems in the dressing room, United face a huge test of their Champions League credentials.

Key fixtures: West Ham (H) - Saturday Jan 22; kick-off 3pm, Man City (A) - Saturday Mar 5; kick-off 3pm, Tottenham (H) - Saturday Mar 12; kick-off 3pm, Liverpool (A) - Saturday Mar 19; kick-off 3pm, Leicester (H) - Saturday Apr 2; kick-off 3pm, Arsenal (A) - Saturday Apr 23; kick-off 3pm, Chelsea (H) - Sunday May 15; kick-off 3pm.

Sky Sports' Alan Smith:

"It's certainly not been the bounce we all expected when Ralf Rangnick arrived.

"I know they have picked up a fair amount of points in the league, but performance-wise, we haven't seen a noticeable improvement.

"There are still a lot of question marks swirling around Old Trafford these days. Rangnick says he hasn't had time on the training ground due to Covid and the number of games, and you can sympathise with that. But the doubts about Rangnick is that he hasn't been a manager too much over the last 10 years. He hasn't been in charge of a top club so in many ways he could be feeling his way a bit and finding his feet at a club the size of Man Utd because that is certainly the biggest job he's ever had.

"The jury is still out as to whether he can actually turn it around because what we've seen so far, he hasn't had an effect really.

"The hope for Rangnick was for him to steady the ship, grab fourth in the league and then appoint a manager, but it is not quite panning out that way at the moment. I do think that having an interim manager will affect some of the players and their attitudes and performances when they are taking instructions off somebody who they know isn't going to be there as long as they are, at least in the dugout. He might move upstairs but certainly, I do think it can have an effect psychologically on certain individuals.

"It's not ideal when you know he is just there for the short term because the manager needs to feel almost more secure in his position than the players for him to be able to command that authority and respect. The fact he is only going to be there for another four months or so, it's not the ideal situation.

"But that is what Manchester United went for and it was a move they hoped would steady things down so that they could move on in the summer. It's not worked out that way so far."

Who else could be in the mix?

Wolves defenders Romain Saiss, Max Kilman (centre) and Conor Coady have impressed this season (PA)

It may be seen as a bit of a longshot for Wolves, Brighton and Leicester to break into the top four, but after some good starts to the season, some eye-catching recent results and games in hand to come, it is far from impossible to see one or even a couple of these sides pushing up the table in the coming weeks.

Sky Sports' Alan Smith:

"You've got to be impressed with Wolves (position: 9th, games played: 19, points: 28, top-four Sky Bet odds: 80/1, active cup competitions: FA Cup) this season. Not too many people knew too much about Bruno Lage when he came in. I certainly didn't, but he's done brilliantly.

"The goals against record is incredible. They certainly need to score more but they have made the most of that ability to defend their own goal. To be in that position constitutes a fantastic first few months for the manager. He needs to add some more firepower to that, but the organisation his side have shown points to a very talented coach indeed.

"It's good to see because after Nuno Espirito Santo's spell you did wonder in which direction Wolves might go, but they seem to have appointed very cleverly indeed. The future looks bright for them and a push for Europe is the next step. if they could sneak into Europe that would prove to be a really good season for them. The win at Man Utd will have given them a great deal of confidence and who knows? You wouldn't write them off because any team that gives goals away very sparingly has always got a chance.

"I've seen Brighton (position: 8th, games played: 20, points: 28, top-four Sky Bet odds: 100/1, active cup competitions: FA Cup) a lot, commentating on many of their games and you never fail to be impressed with their system and their understanding of the game. Their press is always very effective and everyone knows exactly what is expected of them.

"Graham Potter does change his system from time to time and they seem to be able to do it seamlessly. But I have seen so many games where they have created a load of chances and they haven't been able to put the ball in the back of the net, and I'm sure that is something that has consumed Potter as he looks at who he could bring into the club to solve that problem.

"Potter is another very talented and impressive coach, though, who is destined for big things in a few years. Maybe that is not at Brighton because I think he will be quite sought after. It's easy to forget that Brighton have only been in the top-flight for a limited number of years. This is their fifth season on the trot in the Premier League so for them to be where they are now is a great achievement. The club also made a clever appointment in Potter when Chris Hughton left so there is plenty of optimism around the place.

"A good run of form could propel Leicester (position: 10th, games played: 18, points: 25, top-four Sky Bet odds: 33/1, active cup competitions: FA Cup) into the mix, especially with their games in hand. The best is probably yet to come from the Foxes this season. It was a great win over Liverpool last time out and maybe that will trigger a bit of a run of form for Brendan Rodgers' side.

"It has been a bit underwhelming at times and Rodgers has had his problems at the King Power Stadium. You could argue they have overachieved over the last few years, gunning for a top-four place, even though they won the league not so long ago. Maybe this is just a little fall from grace but there is a chance for them now to kick on and finish strongly.

"James Maddison has come back and returned to form and Jamie Vardy has been scoring a few more goals this season. They have got very good players at the club but it has been the defensive side of the game that has let them down. They've had a lot of injuries in that area so if they can just steady the ship at the back they've got a great chance of climbing the table."

Live Premier League

What do the Sky Bet odds say?

Sky Sports' Lewis Jones writes:

"With Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea away and gone, the top-four race is a tricky test for punters as only one club will be paid out as a winning bet from the seven teams mentioned above. And when assessing the odds, the exciting fight is being priced up as a three, maybe four, horse race between Manchester United, Tottenham, Arsenal and West Ham. Despite their constant wobbles, United are joint-favourites to be playing Champions League football next season at 15/8, alongside the rejuvenated Tottenham.

"Arsenal's odds of 9/4 are likely to take a whack or a boost after their clash with Spurs on January 16, a game live on Sky Sports, while West Ham's chances of landing the odds at 11/2 surely rest on their ability to keep Michail Antonio and Declan Rice fit and firing. For those that want to take all four of those on, you can get Leicester at 33/1, Wolves at 80/1 and Brighton at 100/1."

The verdict...

Bukayo Saka celebrates his goal with teammates

Sky Sports' Alan Smith:

"It's a really difficult one to call.

"I can't see Manchester United doing it. I just can't see them getting there with the way they've been playing. There might be a resurgence, we will wait and see, but there seem to be too many problems to fix at Old Trafford at the moment. For me, it might just be between the two north London clubs, Arsenal and Tottenham, which would be very interesting. Perhaps West Ham's squad might just not be strong enough, especially if Michail Antonio picked up an injury.

"Obviously Spurs have got a couple of games in hand and were they to win those, they would go above the Gunners, but I'm just going to side with Arsenal. I'm going with Arteta's side because they have come a long way this season and there's a tight team spirit at the Emirates Stadium. There is less to sort out there than at Tottenham so that's why I'll go for my former team.

"The two sides face off next Sunday in what is a huge game at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. It's a game that will have a huge bearing on this race for fourth.

"Arsenal have not really been helped by the fact the game is now sandwiched by the two semi-finals against Liverpool. They can be a bit fed up about that with some justification the way it has turned out.

"It's a game the Gunners can't lose really given the games in hand Spurs have. It's going to be a belter and if either team wins that might just be enough to give them a push towards that fourth spot."

Watch the race for Champions League qualification unfold live on Sky Sports, starting with Arsenal's trip to north London rivals Tottenham. Watch Tottenham vs Spurs live on Super Sunday, live on Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Premier League from 4.15pm; kick-off 4.30pm.

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