The Race for the Wenger Cup (aka 4th place)

I wonder if he has a portrait of this hanging next to his toilet. - Dean Mouhtaropoulos

A look at the race for the final Champions League spot.

With Liverpool getting all three points from the match against Spurs, the talk and attention has once again turned to the only trophy Wenger has won in quite some time, the trophy for finishing in a Champions League spot. What?! There isn't a trophy for that? Does Wenger know that or does he buy one of those little plastic trophies the kids get each year they finish in the top four?

The victory leaves Liverpool seven points adrift of Chelsea and two points from Arsenal in the race for fourth, however both have a game in hand. Even Steven Gerrard came out and acknowledged the difficulty of the task ahead, "Hopefully it's not too late, but we will need to produce the perfect finish to sneak in the back door."

Can Liverpool push on? Is it realistic to hope? I'm not sure on either question so let's take a closer look at what lies ahead.

ARSENAL:

Arsenal have a very good shot at 4th place. The drama surrounding Wenger/Arsenal has overshadowed their recent form. They have been much better than people realize (on paper, I'm not necessarily saying they are in good form) with a 4-1-1 record over their last six matches. However, it isn't about what Arsenal have done, but more about what lies ahead of them.

They are the last English team in the Champions League as of now although being down 3-1 on aggregate to arguably the best team in Europe right now means that final distraction will likely come to an end today. However, they have lost Wilshere for three weeks. Depending on who you talk to, that is either no big deal or a huge deal. Based on the limited number of matches I've caught, I'm inclined to lean towards the idea that it is a significant blow. Opta Joe pointed out today on twitter,

"4 - Jack Wilshere has twice as many second assists (key pass before an assist) as any other Premier League player this season. Fulcrum."

Clearly he is doing something to create although I was more caught off guard by the fact that someone is actually keeping track of "hockey assists" in football.

Here are Arsenal's final run of EPL fixtures:

Team Total Pts Last 6 matches (W-D-L)
Swansea (A) 40 2-1-3
Reading (H) 23 1-1-4
WBA (A) 43 3-0-3
Norwich (H) 33 1-4-1
Everton (H) 45 2-2-2
Fulham (A) 33 2-2-2
Man U (H) 71 5-1-0
QPR (A) 23 2-2-2
Wigan (H) 24 1-2-3
Newcastle (A) 33 4-0-2

So looking at this, Arsenal's run out is against teams with a combined 368 points. Since they have a game in hand on Liverpool, this can be average to 36.8 points for their final 10 games and used for a loose comparison later. In addition, they are also up against 3 teams currently in the relegation zone in their last 10 fixtures. They are also looking at only 3 teams in the top half of the table, only two of which have anything to play for (Everton and Man U). It remains to be seen, but is likely that United will all but have the title locked up by the time they play Arsenal which could affect how difficult that fixture will actually be for them.

CHELSEA:

Chelsea is a very similar story, except their club is in even more turmoil and they too have been a mixed bag. Their recent form has been 3-1-2, but their recent come from behind draw to United in the FA Cup may just be the spark they need to push on. However I doubt it since Secret Agent Rafa has done a good job of dismantling the club from within. The fans and players appear quite fractured and who knows what is going on behind the scenes. Here is how their EPL schedule plays out:

Team
Pts
Last 6 (W-D-L)
West Ham (H)
33
2-0-4
Southampton (A)
28
1-2-3
Sunderland (H)
30
0-2-4
Tottenham (H)
54
4-1-1
Liverpool (A)
45
3-2-1
Swansea (H)
40
2-1-3
Man U (A)
71
5-1-0
Villa (A)
27
2-1-3
Everton (H)
45
2-2-2

Chelsea currently have the one game in hand on Liverpool and have their final ten matches against teams with a combined 373 points. To account for the game in hand, that is an average opponent with 37.3 points.

They do have games against four teams fighting for Europe, one against Man U and three against teams fighting relegation. Just as with Arsenal the Man U game will likely be a mystery depending on how close United are to clinching the title at the time. If that game is discounted, Chelsea play seven of their last ten against teams with something to fight for. Given the tumultuous nature of Chelsea's current situation, that could be a disaster waiting to happen.

In addition, Chelsea currently have the added distraction of the Europa League and the FA Cup to worry about. These midweek games and potentially long flights could certainly have and effect on their weekend form.

LIVERPOOL:

Liverpool are currently playing their best football of the year. They are finally showing a bit of grit and determination that was sorely missing in the first half of the season. They have also finally found their finishing boots. Even looking at the two recent draws (City and Arsenal), many fans would be quite justified in saying Liverpool deserved the full three points based on play alone and just got a bit unlucky. Liverpool's last seven victories have been by a combined 27-2 goals with all of these teams but Spurs being beneath them now. Here is a look at their run to the finish line:

Team
Pts
Last 6 Games (W-D-L)
Southampton (A)
28
1-2-3
Villa (A)
27
2-1-3
West Ham (H)
33
2-0-4
Reading (A)
23
1-1-4
Chelsea (H)
52
2-2-2
Newcastle (A)
33
4-0-2
Everton (H)
45
2-2-2
Fulham (A)
33
2-2-2
QPR (H)
23
2-2-2

Liverpool play their final 9 games against teams with a combined 297 points for an average of 33. In fact, the only team Liverpool play that is currently above them is Chelsea. However, four of those teams are locked in a huge relegation battle with Newcastle and West Ham likely safe. The Derby is always a hotly contested affair, but the lack of squad depth is really beginning to show with Everton. That gives Liverpool six of nine final games against teams that will put up a fight as well plus the Derby.

Based on Liverpool's recent results against lower half teams, one would have to fancy them to gain a significant number of points. However, being 7 points behind Chelsea having played one game more means that any dropped points and this whole article was a giant waste of time.

SUMMARY:

To summarize the few stats:

Liverpool 33

Team Avg Pts of Remaining Opp. No. of Games Against Teams in a Fight
Liverpool 33 7 of 9
Arsenal 36.8 5 of 10
Chelsea 37.3 7 of 10

What does it all mean? I don't know, that is for you to digest and figure out for yourself. It is clear that Liverpool have the much easier run in on paper, but as we all know the relegation battle is often more exciting than the fight at the top. Given the fact that many of these teams will fight like a cat backed into a corner, there is a good chance Liverpool could fall victim to a desperate team, but then again the same could be said for Chelsea and Arsenal.

It might mean that since Arsenal play teams that are likely to be in a more complacent spot that they could be said to have an easier run in. However, much of that will depend on Wenger's ability to keep his team focused.

If fourth is a realistic possibility, for two of the final ten weekends Liverpool fans will have to become massive Everton supporters. As if that wasn't bad enough, for two more of the final ten weekends, Liverpool supporters will be forced to suppress their bile and pull for United for the fourth place spot to be realistic. If that doesn't make your stomach turn and second guess whether fourth place is worth it, then you clearly need to find a new team to support.

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