Arsenal and manager Arsene Wenger have four matches remaining to break their second-place drought on the Premier League table, with each fixture presenting a different set of difficulties as they eye their first runner-up finish in 10 years.
Following their dazzling 3-1 victory over Hull and the reasonable 0-0 result with newly crowned champions Chelsea, Arsenal are currently level with Manchester City at 70 points apiece as the Premier League campaign winds down over the next 19 days.
Arsenal will matchup with Swansea, Manchester United, Sunderland, and West Brom before the term is out, and with three of the fixtures taking place in the warm confines of Emirates, they have as good a chance as any to wind up in second for the first time since 2005. The Gunners also have one more match to play than both City and United, allowing them the to opportunity to pick up more points.
Of course, they’ll have to fend off City from afar, as well as United directly on May 17, with the Red Devils only five points back ahead of the date at Old Trafford.
Let’s take a look at all three squads’ remaining fixtures and parse who might have the simpler road down the final stretch.
Arsenal (34 games played; 21 wins, 7 draws, 6 losses; 70 points)
Swansea City - 5/11
at Manchester United - 5/17
Sunderland - 5/20
West Bromwich Albion - 5/24
The Gunners already bested 18th-place Sunderland and 13th-place West Brom in their previous meetings this season, denying either side a goal, but Wenger will prepare for those matches with great urgency. Especially the date with Sunderland, who are trying to avoid relegation.
But the key fixtures are against United and Swansea, as both proved victorious over Arsenal earlier this season. The Gunners scored only one goal in the two matches, and the 2-1 home loss to United gave their rivals tons of confidence to continue a campaign no one expected them to have, let alone competing for second on the table.
Arsenal attained some revenge by eliminating Louis van Gaal’s side from FA Cup, and if they can manage a draw at Old Trafford and victories in the other three matches the Gunners should be in excellent shape.
Manchester City (35 games played; 21 wins, 7 draws, 7 losses; 70 points)
Queens Park Rangers - 5/10
at Swansea City - 5/17
Southampton - 5/24
Manager Manuel Pellegrini, who may need a strong finish to secure his job for next season, will have his squad face two strong opponents to end the season. However, City pulled off two wins and draw by a combined score of 7-3 against their three remaining opponents, with 19th-place Queens Park Rangers the surprisingly the only squad to give them a real contest.
QPR could present a challenge on Sunday as they try to avoid relegation, and will be going for broke needing wins to stay in the Premier League. Swansea can be tough at Liberty Stadium, outscoring opponents 25-18. Southampton have a respectable road record (7 wins, 2 draws, 8 losses).
City may need three victories to secure their position, and hope United can topple Arsenal again.
Manchester United (35 games played; 19 wins, 8 draws, 8 losses; 65 points)
at Crystal Palace on - 5/9
Arsenal - 5/17
at Hull - 5/24
The Red Devils were expected to bounce back from last term’s seventh place finish under David Moyes, but they have had several stretches of inconsistency. By the initial glances at Hull and Crystal Palace’s record, it would seem like United only have to be concerned with the date with Arsenal. But that most definitely isn’t the case.
Both Palace and Hull have proven they can show up at any given moment.
Yes, Crystal Palace have lost four out of their last five matches, but that only makes it easy to overlook the 4-1 pasting they handed to Sunderland on April 11. Not to mention the 1-0 letdown to Chelsea only two days ago. Working in United's favor is Palace's struggles at Selhurst Park, where they have nine losses this season.
Hull’s also endured a difficult nine-match stretch, dropping seven and picking up one victory over Crystal Palace. Hull may fight for a draw against United should they create some distance with Sunderland.
United will need to close out all three matches, and rub a rabbit's foot for Arsenal and City to falter.
Edge: With three home matches on the schedule, Arsenal should be able to beat out the Manchester clubs, and may even squeak through if they fall to United at Old Trafford. Wenger has a healthy and confident squad that appears eager to finish the season strong before the FA Cup final on May 30.