It’s been a funny season for Arsenal. Things were never going to be straightforward after Arsene Wenger’s departure, and that has proven to be the case.
If you had offered the Gunners the opportunity to be within a shot of the top four with ten games left to go, they’d have taken it gladly. That is the situation they currently find themselves in.
Despite their lack of identity and some shaky performances, Arsenal are right in the race for a return to the Champions League. It’s a position they would not have thought to find themselves in.
It’s not going to be easy for them to make fourth their own, though. Manchester United are hot on their heels behind them. Chelsea will also not give up the race without a fight either. This year, both the title race and the top four could go right down the wire.
Fortunately for the Gunners, they might have one advantage over their competitors. The fixture list has worked out in their favour at this stage of the season.
Of their last ten league games, four are against teams currently sitting in the bottom half of the table. Three of the teams they face, Newcastle, Burnley and Crystal Palace, could be safe by the time they meet the Gunners. That plays right into the Gunners hands. The other team they face, Brighton, have the joint third worst away record in the league. That’s another advantage for Arsenal.
Chelsea, meanwhile, face three teams sitting in the bottom half of the table. Admittedly, they are Fulham and Cardiff, teams they will be confident of beating. They also have to face the teams currently sitting in seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth. They’re all in the race for a top seven spot and will be competing to the death.
Manchester United face a similar run in. They also face three teams in the bottom half of the table. Crucially, though, they have to wait until their final two games to play Huddersfield and Cardiff. It may be too late to take advantage of those games by that point.
Before those games, they also take on the teams sitting in eighth, ninth and tenth in the league. Those games are followed by home fixtures against Manchester City and Chelsea. The latter could end up deciding the top four race in Arsenal’s favour.
Of course, the Premier League is likely to have its say. No top league around Europe throws the number of curveballs that this division does. There will be plenty of shocks, twists and turns in the final stretch of the season. The top four will not be determined by who has the easier fixtures on paper, that is for sure.
That does not mean Arsenal should not take hope from the situation, though. Fate has given them a run of games; they should be confident of winning. It’s up to them to take advantage of the upper hand they have over Chelsea and Manchester United.