MANCHESTER (Reuters): Tottenham Hotspur hope to turn the tables on bitter rivals Arsenal on the final day of the Premier League season on Sunday by snatching a top-four finish at their expense. With Manchester United crowned champions, Manchester City guaranteed second spot and all three relegation victims already decided, the focus is on the Champions League places with Chelsea on 72 points, Arsenal on 70 and Spurs on 69.
Third place earns automatic passage to the group stage of Europe’s elite club competition, while fourth place means a ticket to the third qualifying round. Fifth means heartbreak and the Europa League, an all too familiar outcome for Spurs. Last year, Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal side snatched third on the last day of the season with Spurs ending up fourth, their misery compounded by the fact they missed out on the Champions League as Chelsea took the final English spot as European champions.
If that was hard to stomach, it was more so, literally in 2006 when Spurs players were hit with food poisoning before their game with West Ham United where if they had won they would have secured fourth place. They lost and Arsenal overtook them to take the Champions League berth. This time, Andre Villas-Boas’s side are the chasers and will be hoping for a change in fortunes when they host Sunderland as they could end up in the frustrating position of notching their highest ever Premier League points total of 72 and still miss out.
“All we can do is win our games and it’s important for us to keep believing,” defender Jan Vertonghen said on the club’s website (www.tottenhamhotspur.com). “We would have to do that anyway on Sunday, so let’s hope we can.” Arsenal, who travel to Newcastle United, are ready for the challenge and are encouraged by knowing a top-four finish is in their own hands after that looked unlikely at times this season. “There will be nerves again (at Newcastle), but we have dealt with nerves for a long, long time now,” Wenger told Arsenal Player.
“It is natural of course, because it shows that (the players) care but this team is on an exceptional run and has an exceptional spirit. We have 70 points, the target is 73, so let’s just go with the spirit and desire we have and I think we can do it.”
Third-placed Chelsea, who won the Europa League by beating Benfica on Wednesday, host Everton and will want to avoid any slip-up as depending on how results go, there is the possibility of an end-of-season playoff between themselves and Arsenal to determine who finishes third. If Chelsea draw and Arsenal win at Newcastle by a single goal while scoring two more than Chelsea, the pair would finish level on points, goal difference and goals scored which would create the need for a first ever Premier League playoff.
Away from the tension and the maths, one club who definitely will not be needing a calculator is Manchester United. Having wrapped up the title with four games to spare, they have been able to enjoy the closing stages of the season as they prepare to say goodbye to retiring manager Alex Ferguson. The Scot’s final game in charge after more than 26 years at the club will be a trip to West Bromwich Albion, who had to block sales of tickets for the game on an exchange website because United fans were snapping up seats in the home sections.
Manchester City, who did not wait until the end of the season to say farewell to sacked boss Roberto Mancini, host Norwich City with little to play for in contrast to the final day of last term when they won the title on goal difference. Reading, Queens Park Rangers and FA Cup winners Wigan Athletic have already been consigned to the second tier for next season but will make the most of their final top-flight games against West Ham United, Liverpool and Aston Villa respectively.
In other action, Southampton host Stoke City and Fulham travel to Swansea City with all of Sunday’s games kicking off at 1500 GMT.