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With Manchester City now finding themselves holding a significant 10 point lead at the top of the Premier League table, the race for fourth place could now be the most exciting aspect of the remainder of the season.
It’s difficult to see Pep Guardiola’s team faltering from here, having won three of the last four league titles and host both of their nearest rivals in Chelsea and Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium.
As such, it would take something dramatic for there to be a serious title race in the second half of the season, making the race for fourth the most intriguing remaining aspect. The latest odds for a top-four finish also suggest that fact, with Bet365 making Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham all level in their chase of a Champions League place.
Each of the three teams are now priced at 15/8 to finish in the top four at the end of the season, while West Ham are also in the frame at 11/2. The Hammers are currently fifth in the table and just a point off fourth, but their thin squad and Europa League commitments in the new year may be held against them with these particular odds.
It is rare to see three teams on equal odds in an outright market at this particular stage of the season and below we will assess the chances of each contender.
Arsenal are currently in the driver’s seat, finding themselves sat fourth after 20 matches played. Despite losing 2-1 to the league leaders on Saturday, Arsenal’s performance against Manchester City will give many of their supporters optimism that they could finally make a return to the Champions League for the first time since 2017.
Mikel Arteta appears to be building a team in his own image and despite initial criticism of their summer recruitment, it now appears that they have performed well in the transfer window. The culture at Arsenal also appears to be improving, with the likes of Mesut Ozil, Mateo Guendouzi and, most recently, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang all being exiled from the first team.
However, there is still an element of feast or famine with this team, as shown by their return of 11 victories and seven defeats in the league. They lead each of the featured three teams in each of these categories at the time of writing and there is still a concern when they face the elite teams in the league. They have just three points from a possible 18 against the ‘big six’ this season, with that coming against Nuno Espirito Santo’s Spurs.
They have undoubtedly benefited from having no European football this season, although this advantage will no longer exist over Tottenham after their exit from the UEFA Europa Conference League. Arsenal supporters will be delighted with the progress of their team and will fancy their chances of returning to their once routine position of fourth.
Should Tottenham win their two games in hand on Arsenal, they could find themselves as many as four points clear of their North London rivals. Although they would almost certainly rather be the side with the points on the board, particularly with the threat of fixture congestion later on in the season if games continue to be postponed, it is a carrot that will give them great motivation.
Antonio Conte has transformed the team in the short time that he has been in charge. A lethargic, uninspiring outfit that rarely outrun their opponents under Nuno Espirito Santo, they have been energised and enthused by the presence of the Italian, whilst also adapting well to his favoured back three system.
Harry Kane has also improved off the back of Conte’s arrival, scoring three goals in his last four Premier League games and the appointment could see him stay long-term amidst interest from Manchester City.
Between him and Heung-Min Son they have the potential to score plenty of goals and January could play a big part in their pursuit of the Champions League. It’s unlikely Conte would’ve come without the promise of investment and the next two transfer windows will be incredibly interesting to see at Tottenham.
Manchester United are undoubtedly in the worst form out of the three featured teams and, unlike Spurs, haven’t had the new manager bounce that they may have expected from Ralf Rangnick.
Despite going unbeaten in their first five games under the German, United’s performances have been sub-par to say the least, particularly against Newcastle United and Wolves on Monday night. In the latter they lost 1-0 after Joao Moutinho’s second-half strike, leaving them four points behind Arsenal with a game in hand.
After a big summer that saw them sign Raphael Varane, Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo, it remains to be seen whether or not they will have any funds available to strengthen their squad in January either. Even if there is, they may prefer to wait until their permanent manager takes over from Rangnick in the summer, who will then move into a consultancy role for two years.
There appears to be a real lack of unity amongst this team, particularly when adversity is thrown in their direction and that doesn’t stand them in good stead moving forward. That said, they have the most talented squad of the three mentioned and some extra work on the training ground could see them have an improvement in form.