Wolfsburg was flying high, winners of 4 of its last five games. Napoli was the complete opposite and in search of finding form once again. A flat start from the Germans allowed Napoli to take an early lead and the Italians would never look back. Napoli found four goals on the road to take a commanding 4-1 win in the return leg of the Europa League at home next week. A brace from Marek Hamsik and goals from Gonzalo Higuain and Manolo Gabbiadini saw Napoli through. Wolfsburg’s only consolation was a late goal from Lord Bendtner. When Lord Bendtner is your only source of goals you know it is going to be a long night. Now, Wolfsburg must go on the road and win 4-0 to find a a way through to the semi-finals.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post ‘Predicting the Top of the Premier League Table’. In it, I claimed that there was basically a three team fight between Tottenham, Arsenal, and Everton for the 4th spot. I was correct about a three team fight; however, it now seems to be for the 3rd spot between Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal.
Here’s the table now with 27 games played (except for Tottenham who plays West Ham later today).
Two weeks ago, Chelsea was 5 points clear of Arsenal which is now down to just 2 measly points with Cheslea’s 2-0 loss to Manchester City on Sunday and Arsenal’s late dramatic win over Aston Villa on Saturday. With a win over West Ham later today, Tottenham has a chance to secure the 3rd spot outright and stay 3 points clear of Arsenal before the big showdown at White Hart Lane this weekend. The Spurs also are attempting to avoid yet another Champions League spot disappointment as they’ve finished one spot out for two straight years.
The aforementioned match against Arsenal and Spurs could be the defining match for either team. Should Arsenal win, all the pressure of another late season collapse mounts on the shoulders of Gareth Bale and Tottenham. However, a win over the Gunners puts Tottenham in the drivers seat for only their second Champions League appearance in 20 years. Neither team are in “blistering” form, but have also been getting favorable results as of late. Tottenham is unbeaten since their December 9th loss to Everton – despite earning draws against Stoke, Norwich and lowly QPR during this stretch. Arsenal are winners of three straight while only allowing 1 goal in all of those contests combined. It seems like the perfect storm is set up for the North London Derby on Sunday.
And then there’s Chelsea. Somewhat of an enigma this season. They started off the 2012/2013 campaign with such promise and vigor. Unfortunately, they have had a rocky start to 2013, only accumulating 11 points out of a possible 24 during the new year; while Arsenal have earned 14 and Tottenham 12 (with a game in hand). Everton is seemingly playing themselves out of a possible Champions League birth with only one point in their last three matches.
Between Chelsea, Arsenal, and Tottenham, there are only two matches remaining between those three clubs. This weekend’s clash in North London between Arsenal and the Spurs and Chelsea v Tottenham on April 14th. The lack of remaining matches between these squads means that these two matches are massive when it comes to the fight for 3rd (and 4th). Who will rise to the occasion and who will wilt under the pressure? It remains to be seen, but we’ll find out a lot about where Arsenal and Tottenham are headed after Sunday.
One of these three clubs will be left out of the Champions League next season. It’s a wide open race at the moment, so it’s all speculation at this point as to who it will be in the Europa League versus the Champions League. Last season’s drama for the top spot is highly unlikely to replicate this season – the drama will be among these three squads, which will be entertaining in its own right and could once again come down to the last match of the season.