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The importance of the top four

Challenges for Arsenal and Chelsea outside of the European elite

Daniel Thomas

Now that the dust has settled and Sky Sports’ coveted “race for the top four” has ended up as barely even a brisk walk, reality is going to bite for both Chelsea and Arsenal.

Whilst both teams can sustain several seasons outside of the top four due to positions of financial strength, it provides obstacles for them in what will be respective periods of rebuilding. Antonio Conte is hotly tipped to leave the job as Chelsea enter another summer where they target a new manager. This short term thinking seems to need a resolution every three summers or so. And of course Arsene Wenger is leaving Arsenal after twenty two years and replacing him will be a very, very difficult task.

There are no such issues for Liverpool in this instance however as their place in the top four was clinched with a thumping 4-0 win over Brighton. The Seagulls have not travelled well and at no stage did they look like doing Chelsea good turn. It was a big win for Liverpool not only in terms of securing their place at the top table next season but for regaining a bit of form.

Chelsea take on Man United in the FA Cup Final this weekend, click here for the latest odds.

The reason the Reds haven’t long since wrapped up Champions League qualification is arguably due to their foray into the final of this year’s competition. With injuries biting and a squad that does not possess the requisite quality outside of the first eleven, it’s been a stuttering end to the season. Without the (very welcome!) distractions of the two games with Manchester City and Roma, Liverpool would likely have wrapped up the top four weeks ago.

For my nerves that would have been better but in reality, we can’t down tools in the early days of May and expect to be razor sharp come Kiev. It might have been done the slightly hard way but the reality is that Chelsea accepted their fate after the crazy 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge with Huddersfield in midweek. There wasn’t even the smallest part of me that had any nerves that we’d do what we needed to on Sunday. It’s also worth noting that with a week’s rest, Liverpool immediately returned to looking very sharp.

Having finished fourth in 2016/2017, the same was required this term as a minimum. Nobody can compete with Manchester City’s total but I wish we could have finished second or third. It’s no great shakes that we have but for my money we’re better than Manchester United and Spurs but they have gone past us due to our stuttering end to the season. But due to the mechanics of the Champions League from 2018/2019 we don’t need to concern ourselves with a qualifier. The difference between second, third and fourth is a couple of hundred thousand pounds.

But the importance of getting Champions League football in consecutive seasons cannot be underestimated. It’s the first time we’ve done so this decade. It’s also important that we have capitalised on seasons of weakness as The Emirates and Stamford Bridge. Arsenal have been in perpetual decline for the last ten years (and yet have still won more trophies than us) and they are now in the cycle Liverpool have found themselves in for much of the last ten years- on the outside looking in.

I don’t want to sound condescending but Europa League football is not conducive to a good season in the league. The Thursday – Sunday theory has evidence of causing problems. Arsenal have had a poor season, Manchester United had a poor league season in 2017/2018 but won the Europa League which eliminates the league concern.

Given that Arsenal require a huge rebuilding job Europa League football is not likely to aid their cause. They are also going to find that despite the offer of London locations and big money available, their top transfer (and maybe even managerial) targets might head elsewhere.

Chelsea will have no problems attracting players because of the money that they can offer for both fees and wages but they might well have a new manager too. Conte had no issues adjusting to the league but that’s not to say that his replacement won’t, assuming they are not already managing in the Premier League.

And all this uncertainty details exactly why Liverpool’s fourth place finish is so important. The poor seasons of two big rivals below us was the exact reason we needed to capitalise and ensure we dine at European football’s top table again. We will always get outbid by some teams and some teams will always offer bigger wages. But we will have the opportunity to go out and make bids for players on our short list this summer and be able to offer them elite European football. It’s not about rubbing the noses of Arsenal and Chelsea in their own misfortune, but making hay whilst the sun is shining.

We actually finished with a point less than we did last season but given the appearance in Kiev in just less than a fortnight, I think it’s safe to say that 2017/2018 is a definite step up and that statistics can be deceptive!

You can follow Daniel on Twitter: @TLW1Dan

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