Five into one doesn’t go as a quintuplet of teams battle it out for fourth in the Premier League.
Manchester United, West Ham, Arsenal, Wolves and Tottenham are all in the hunt for the final for Champions League qualification spot next season, with just seven points separating fourth-placed United and eighth-placed Spurs.
That seven-point gap could easily swing too with Tottenham having three games in hand on United. In fact, of the contenders it is only West Ham who have played the same amount of games (26) as the current occupiers of fourth.
So, as we near the business end of the season, who has the advantage? Sportsmail takes a look at the likelihood of those five teams’ chances.
MANCHESTER UNITED (FOURTH, 46 POINTS)
The current occupiers of fourth, Manchester United remain an enigma. Yes, they may be in the last top-four position but it’s very much a case of ‘wasted opportunity’ for the Red Devils.
The last three months have yielded a relatively ‘kind’ fixture list to United, one they have not capitalised on.
A 1-1 draw at relegation-threatened Newcastle on December 27 was followed up by a 1-0 home defeat by Wolves on January 3 and then a 2-2 draw with Aston Villa 12 days later. This month too has seen them drops points with successive 1-1 draws within days, first at Burnley and then at home to Southampton.
Manchester United currently sit fourth in the Premier League table on 46 points
It’s the manner of those dropped points too. In those three most-recent draws, United have led then been pegged back on each occasion – unable to make their chances count. History almost repeated itself on Sunday too during their 4-2 win at Leeds, initially throwing away a two-goal lead.
The reason why many will feel it’s been a ‘wasted opportunity’ for Manchester United is because of their upcoming fixtures. They’re daunting to say the least.
After hosting relegation-threatened Watford on Saturday, who put four past them in the reverse fixture, United then travel to table-toppers Manchester City (March 6), host Tottenham (March 12) and then go to arch-rivals Liverpool (March 20). March Madness, indeed.
On current form alone, it would be quite conceivable for United to pick up just six points there (by beating Watford and Tottenham at home).
April’s run of games include Leicester (who put four past them earlier in the season), Everton and Arsenal – the latter a potentially pivotal top-four clash.
United’s final home game of the season too is against Chelsea (May 15), by then it could be too late for their top-four hopes unless they deliver in these big matches.
United face a daunting run of fixtures though vs Manchester City, Tottenham and Liverpool
WEST HAM (FIFTH, 42 POINTS)
We all know the song, but has the bubble burst at West Ham? One win in their last five matches has derailed David Moyes’ side top-four aspirations.
After beating Norwich City 2-0 on January 12, the Hammers sat fourth on 37 points – six clear of Manchester United, although they had played two games more. Since their disappointing run of results, they now trail the Red Devils by four points and have played the same number of matches.
Jarrod Bowen has been exceptional this season as well as talisman Declan Rice and Moyes will be hoping the rest of his stars can step up a level too. Many of the Hammers’ loyal fanbase wanted the club to sign another striker during the January transfer window and the lack of one could come back to haunt them.
West Ham’s brilliant season has begun to wane a bit following a stuttering run of results
On Sunday, West Ham’s top-four credentials will be tested when they host in-form Wolves before then travelling to second-placed Liverpool on March 5.
Fifteen days after the trip to Anfield, West Ham head just a few miles north to bitter rivals Tottenham in what is bound to be another top-four crunch clash.
That fixture against Spurs is their ninth-last Premier League game and in that run-in they have four London derbies (they play Brentford, Chelsea and Arsenal) to add an extra spice to their run-in.
Chelsea and Arsenal are two of their last five fixtures, which also includes the visit of Manchester City in their penultimate game of the season.
David Moyes has plenty to ponder as he looks to reinvigorate his side’s top-four aspirations
ARSENAL (SIXTH, 42 POINTS)
On paper, the top-four race should be advantage Arsenal. The Gunners – who lost their first three games of the season, don’t forget – are just four points off fourth and they have three matches in hand, so let’s start there.
If, and one should never assume, that they do win all three fixtures then Arsenal will be five points clear at the top. However, those said fixtures are daunting to say the least as they are a home game against Liverpool and trips to Chelsea and Tottenham.
Dates for any of the latter two matches are still yet to be determined and this is bound to see the Gunners truly tested as we approach the business end of the season.
Arsenal on paper have the advantage but their three games in hand are against top opponents
Their next fixture is on Thursday at home to Wolves. The two teams played each other on February 10, a match that the Gunners won 1-0 with 10 men. This will give them confidence into Thursday, but make no mistake that Wolves will be a tough opponent.
After Wolves comes fixtures against Watford and Leicester before the Gunners head to Liverpool (March 16). That daunting encounter is then followed by another tricky trip to Aston Villa three days later.
April will be the Gunners’ true test as it includes three away trips at Crystal Palace, Southampton and West Ham. The game at the Hammers (April 30) comes just a week after they entertain Manchester United (April 23).
Arsenal fans will expect victories in their last three matches which are Leeds (H), Newcastle (A) and Everton (H). However, all three may be dicey affairs with those opponents all fighting to avoid relegation currently.
After a season without European football, Mikel Arteta will be desperate for a top-four finish
WOLVES (SEVENTH, 40 POINTS)
After a downturn last season, Wolves are back in European contention but this time fighting for a Champions League spot.
Bruno Lage was appointed in June 2021 and has done a magnificent job at Molineux so far. After a slow start to the season, where they lost three of their first four matches, Lage’s side have regrouped and have quietly remained in the pack for a top-four finish.
They have two games in hand on Manchester United and victory in both would see them go level on points with the Red Devils.
Wolves have quietly crept into top-four contention after an impressive run of top-flight form
This week coming, Wolves have two huge games that could shape their top-four hopes. On Thursday they host Arsenal and then on Sunday travel to West Ham.
Wolves supporters will back themselves to emerge from March at least undefeated (which includes games against relegation-threatened Watford, Everton and Leeds).
April begins with the small matter of a local derby against Aston Villa and then a trip to Newcastle before the toughest of run-ins. April 16 sees the visit of Manchester City, May 7 is a trip to Chelsea while the final game of the season is at Liverpool (May 22).
Chuck in the fact that Burnley (A) and Norwich (H) are also part of this six-game finale, and could still be scrapping to stay in the division, then Wolves will really need to move in a pack to remain in the top-four hunt.
Bruno Lage (centre) has done a tremendous job at Wolves in his first season at the club so far
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (EIGHTH, 39 POINTS)
The standout result at the weekend was Tottenham’s stunning 3-2 win at champions-elect Manchester City.
The result showed what this Spurs side can do despite their up-and-down season. That win at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday was their first in four Premier League matches following defeats by Chelsea (2-0), Southampton (2-3) and Wolves (0-1).
Antonio Conte’s side have three games in hand on Manchester United and victory in all of those would see them go one point clear of the Red Devils.
Tottenham showcased their intent with an enthralling 3-2 win at Manchester City on Sunday
Wednesday night’s trip to Burnley is one those games and the visit to Turf Moor will be a difficult one considering their opponent’s relegation fears.
Games against Leeds and Everton follow before a trip to United on March 12 follows. A week later (March 20) they host West Ham in a London derby in a huge few days for top-four ramifications.
On the surface, April doesn’t currently look too taxing for the north London outfit – although there is still the small matter of derby against bitter rivals Arsenal to also include.
May begins with a tough trip to Liverpool (May 7) with Spurs’ final two matches against relegation candidates in Burnley (May 15) and Norwich (May 22).
Spurs will look to Harry Kane (left) to propel them to victory against Burnley on Wednesday