Form, Fixtures and Squad depth: Just who are the favourites to take fourth place in the Premier League?
As we edge ever closer to the end of the season, the race for the top 4 is beginning to reach fever point. Wins for Arsenal and Tottenham, combined with losses for Manchester United and West Ham in the most recent round of fixtures have changed the complexion of the race in a major way.
So, with less than a third of the season to play, who are the bookies favourites to take fourth spot, who has the easiest run in, and who are 101 backing to steal that position and earn Champions League football for next season?
Arsenal (48 points)
The seemingly nailed on favourites for Champions League football next season, Arsenal are going from strength to strength and are currently the most in-form side of the lot.
In fourth place on merit and with three games in hand on the two sides below them, it would take a special sort of slump to keep Champions League football out of their young side’s grasp.
But it could happen. Arsenal still have to face all three of their top-four rivals, two away from home, while they must also play Liverpool and Chelsea in their final thirteen fixtures.
The Gunners are firing on all cylinders pic.twitter.com/IMV0DWcsOw
— LiveScore (@livescore) March 7, 2022
Equally, they have a small squad, with depth sparse in several key areas. Should more than one or two players be forced to miss games for whatever reason, their top 4 charge could quickly become a shattered dream.
That has not stopped the bookies making them out and out favourites, however. The Gunners sit at just 8/15 odds to be playing Champions League next season.
Manchester United (47 points)
A team full of expensive superstars, Manchester United look rudderless, having limped to 2 wins in their last 5 league games. While they have lost just once in the top flight under Ralf Rangnick, their eight draws (more than any other side in this race) have seen them drop 16 points. Five of these draws have come under Rangnick.
— LiveScore (@livescore) March 6, 2022
Having played 28 games, they have a lighter fixture list than some of their rivals, although that could get busier if they can make it past Atletico Madrid in the Champions League. However, they still have to play Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham, as well as travelling to Liverpool. Of these 10 games then, they have to play arguably 4 of the five best teams in the country.
Potential banana skins against an improving Leicester City and a tricky Brighton side also lie in wait, but on the whole results against those around them could be enough to keep them in the hunt for Champions League football next season.
A defeat to Tottenham, however, could signal the end of their hopes.
Despite this, they are not considered too much of outsiders to take 4th spot ahead of their rivals, with bet365 offering odds of just 4/1 of them making Champions League football next season.
West Ham (45 points)
It is hard to see West Ham making the top 4 from here. The optimism that carried them through much of the first parts of the campaign has evaporated, leaving the reality of a bare-bones squad that has already played too many games.
At least two more Europa League games, against Sevilla, beckon. That is on top of their 10 remaining Premier League encounters, which include trips to Stamford Bridge and the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, while they welcome Arsenal and Manchester City to the London Stadium.
While Jarrod Bowen’s injury seems to be less serious than first feared, it shows their reliance on one or two players, and their issues if key options are unavailable. Failure to strengthen in January has seemingly cost them a shot at Champions League football next campaign.
Top 4 against the odds?
Perhaps understandably, West Ham are considered rank outsiders for a top 4 finish given their position, squad and fixture list. David Moyes and co. will have to perform a miracle and hope that others around them fall down to get Champions League football next season via a League finish.
Tottenham Hotspur (45 points)
Tottenham need to beat Tottenham more than anyone else in order to stand a chance at finishing in the top 4 at the end of the season. Antonio Conte’s side show remarkable inconsistency- their 1-0 defeat to Burnley was bookended by brilliant victories over Manchester City and Leeds United- and they will need to fix this in order to mount a serious challenge.
On paper, the Lilywhites have the easiest fixtures, only having to travel to Liverpool and Manchester United, while the home North London derby is yet to be rescheduled. Games against West Ham and Leicester won’t be easy though, and there is no guarantee with this Tottenham side.
In Harry Kane and Heung Min-Son, they have two genuinely world class forwards. They will need them both firing to mount a serious push for Champions League football next campaign.
What the bookies say
Second favourites according to those that run the bookies, Spurs are nonetheless major outsiders to north London rivals Arsenal when it comes to betting, with Conte bringing Champions League football back to the Tottenham Hotspur stadium able to be backed at 3/1 with bet 365.
Wolves (40 points)
Once considered dark horses for the final Champions League place, 4 losses in 6 games have all but ended their hopes of a top 4 finish this season.
On 40 points with 11 games to go, Wolves would need to win 10 of those 11 in order to finish on 70 points, the tally that is likely to be enough for 4th place. And, with games against all of the Premier League top 3 still to come, and their inability to regularly find the net, it seems very unlikely.
Not impossible, but there is a reason that they are priced at a whopping 50/1 to finish 4th this season now.
As can be seen above, there are plenty of points still up for grabs, and with 4th place expected to take around 70 points to earn, it is still possible for all of the sides to finish 4th. It is hard to look past Arsenal, however, when form and fixtures are taken into account, and it is clear that they are nailed on favourites for a reason.