Saturday, March 13, 2010

Can Tottenham Hotspur Catch Arsenal and Finish Third in the Premier League?

Tottenham Hotspur strengthened their grip on fourth place in the English Premier League with their 3-1 win over Blackburn Rovers on Saturday, but with time running out is it too late for the Lilywhites to launch a bid to catch Arsenal and finish third?

Looking at the gap between the two teams at the moment, you would have to say that the chances of Spurs pulling off a third-place finish were unlikely. However, the two teams have yet to meet, and, given a swing of two results, it is conceivable that the White Hart Lane outfit could achieve the impossible.
Currently the Gunners find themselves in a slightly similar position to their North London rivals in that they need the two teams above them to drop points if they are to win the title.
With that being said, what is to stop Arsenal from dropping the same number of points and let Spurs slip in for third?
Arsenal, as has been well documented, have, on paper, an easier run in than their two title rivals. But there are a few tricky fixtures, as many of the teams they have yet to play are in the middle of the battle to avoid relegation.
They also take on two teams who are chasing the Champions League positions in Spurs and, before that, Manchester City, in what promises to be a spicy game considering what happened at the Eastlands earlier in the season.
The Gunners coasted into the quarterfinals of the Champions League after demolishing a poor Porto team at the Emirates. You can only ever beat what is put in front of you, and Arsenal cruelly exposed the difference in class between them and their Portuguese opponents.
Given the right opponent, they could progress to the semifinals, but a lot depends on the luck of the draw and avoiding Manchester United, Chelsea, and Barcelona.
As far as their league run is concerned, they have Hull tonight (a), West Ham (h), Birmingham (a), Wolves (h), Spurs (a), Wigan (a), Man City (h), Blackburn (a), and Fulham at home on the last day of the season.
One thing to factor in at this stage is that if Spurs beat Fulham in their FA Cup replay at White Hart Lane, then the Tottenham fixture will be moved to the final weeks of the season.
Looking at these games in a worst-case scenario for the Gunners, they could take between 13 and 19 points, and that is being generous. Best-case scenario and they will go unbeaten, claiming between 19 and 21 points.
Spurs need them to lose at least three games, before beating Arsenal too. Meaning that Tottenham will need the Gunners to lose four times from nine games. A distinct impossibility at this late stage?
Spurs also have a good run in, but they do have three huge fixtures in the space of three weeks right in the middle of their run in.
Stoke (a), Portsmouth (h), Sunderland (a), Arsenal (h), Chelsea (h), Manchester United (a), Bolton (h), and finally Burnley away.
From those games it is easy to see Spurs win every game bar the ones against the big three. Their record away to the big four is abysmal, having not won since 1993 against Liverpool, United, Chelsea, or Arsenal.
Their home record is better, and, given the right conditions, full points are attainable against the Gunners and the Blues, but it would be a tough task.
Best-case scenario has Spurs taking at least 19 points from 24.
Do the math, and even with Spurs doing as well as you would hope and Arsenal doing as bad as could be expected, they should not catch the Gunners for third.
The race for fourth, though, is very much in their own hands. Games in hand mean very little at this stage of the season, and points on the table are all that count, so Aston Villa's and Manchester City's excess of matches to play should not be overestimated.
Looking at Tottenham, the club has overachieved so far this season. While many expected them to be fourth-place contenders, few actually expect them to finish there. Also, as the league table stands, Spurs are four to six points ahead of their predicted points tally at this stage of the season.
Bookmakers had Spurs down to finish the season on between 55 and 59 points; currently they sit fourth on 52 with eight games to play, five of them highly winnable.
Before the win over Blackburn, Harry Redknapp had set his team a target of 19 points to finish fourth. An achievable target, which would leave Spurs on around 70 points come the end of the season.
You would have to think that third place is out of bounds for this season, but fourth is very much in their own hands.
However, finishing third ahead of Arsenal is something the club will aim for next season...