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After Chelsea wrapped up their second title in three years and Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Hull City’s relegations were confirmed with games to spare, all the drama will be surrounding Champions League qualification on the final day of the season.
Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal will fight it out to the end to decide who will win the multi-million pound prize of playing in Europe’s elite competition next season.
Manchester City and Liverpool are currently in the driving seat and will both qualify if they win their final games. City travel to Watford and Liverpool host relegated Middlesbrough respectively.
However, Arsenal can creep their way into the top-four if they beat Everton at the Emirates and if one of their rivals drop points.
There is also the possibility of two of the teams finishing on the same points with the same goal difference, which would require a one-off play-off match to determine the qualification for next seasons Champions League.
Premier League rules state: “If at the end of the season either the league champions or the clubs to be relegated or the question of qualification for other competitions cannot be determined because two or more clubs are equal on points, goal difference and goals scored, the clubs concerned shall play off one or more deciding league matches on neutral grounds, the format, venue and timing of which shall be determined by the board.”
Manchester City v Liverpool: Play-off for third place
For Liverpool and City to finish on identical points and goal difference, there would need to be a high-scoring draw at Vicarage Road, while Liverpool would have to annihilate Middlesbrough at Anfield.
For example, a 3-3 draw for City and a 3-0 win for Liverpool would see the teams tied for third place which would require a play-off to decide who gets automatic qualification to the Champions League group stages.
This would also be the case if City drew 4-4 and Liverpool won 4-1, and so on. However, Arsenal would finish no higher than fifth even if they won their final game.
Manchester City v Arsenal: The nightmare scenario for City
If City were to lose 4-0 to Watford, and Arsenal scraped a 1-0 victory over Everton, both clubs will have identical goal difference and points. This would also occur if City lost 5-1 and Arsenal won 2-1, and so on.
This could also result in a third/fourth place play-off if Liverpool failed to beat Middlesbrough – or a fourth/fifth place play-off if the Reds win at home.
Arsenal v Liverpool: The battle for fourth
If Arsenal were to draw 1-1 with Liverpool’s local rivals Everton, and the five time Champions League winners lost 2-0 to Middlesbrough, they would finish tied for fourth.
This would also be the case if Arsenal drew 2-2 and Liverpool lost 3-1 or Arsenal drew 3-3 and the Reds lost 4-2, and so on.
City would finish third in this scenario regardless of their result against Watford and would clinch that cherished third spot to send them straight to the group stages.
What’s on the line for the three teams?
With what could be Arsene Wenger’s final Premier League game in charge of Arsenal, the outcome of the final round of the the season could determine his future at the club.
After guiding the Gunners to the Champions league consecutively for 19 seasons, this could be the final straw that brings his longevity with the club to an end.
Failure to qualify for the top four will only intensify the pressure on the Frenchman to potentially end his career at the north London club on a high by beating Chelsea in the FA Cup final next Saturday.
After an impressive start to the season, and going throughout the year unbeaten against the top six, it would be a major disappointment for the Reds if they failed to finish in the top four.
Regarded as title contenders before the Christmas period was warranted after some impressive away wins against Arsenal and the champions Chelsea.
But a dip in form over winter period saw their hopes for their first Premier League title fade away. Struggles against lower placed opposition and their home form was questioned but they have still managed to stay in the hunt to qualify for the Champions League for the first time since the 2014-2015 season.
The optimism that surrounded Manchester City at the beginning of the season was justified following ten wins in a row in all competitions under new manager Pep Guardiola. However their consistency plummeted drastically, which saw their title hopes slip away from them, giving Chelsea the opportunity to take full advantage.
Guardiola may not have lived up to his expectations after failing to win any silverware in his first season in charge, but failure to finish in the top-four would be a major shock considering the amount of money they spent since the Spaniard took charge.
City spent more than any other team in the league, splashing out £174.2 million. Some of his major signings have been questioned, such as John Stones for £50m and Claudio Bravo for £17.1m after a number of mistakes that left their defence looking vulnerable.
City are in the best position out of the three and will be kicking themselves if they fail to meet their minimum expectation of finishing in the top four. Failure to do so could ultimately see the highly reputable Guardiola facing the sack.
Written by Conor Lee
Follow Conor on Twitter @cmlivesports
Check out more of his writing via his excellent blog, Live Sports Reports
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