Arsenal‘s hopes of securing a top-four finish rest on defeating Everton and then awaiting results elsewhere on the final day of the Premier League season (3pm Sunday).
The Gunners have already bettered the points haul that took them to second in the table last season but the top end of the league has been a lot more competitive this time around.
Arsene Wenger’s side have finished in the top four in each of the last 21 seasons but despite a strong end to the campaign comprising six victories in their last seven matches. They still need Liverpool to drop points at home to already relegated Middlesbrough or for Manchester City to lose, probably by at least a couple of goals, away to Watford if they are to keep that run going for another season.
Arsenal could still theoretically finish fourth with a draw if Liverpool were to lose by two or more goals and there is even a scenario in which the two teams would be forced to play off for the final Champions League qualifying spot due to being equal on both goal difference and goals scored (a 1-1 draw for Arsenal and a 0-2 defeat for Liverpool). But realistically they need a win and still the bookies’ Top 4 Finish betting odds suggests it will be a tall order.
Everton have already ended one solid Arsenal run this season. The Gunners were on a three-match winning streak and had won 10 of their previous 13 matches prior to their 2-1 defeat at Goodison Park in December. That was one of two back-to-back defeats that saw them begin to stumble but it was a sequence of five defeats, one draw and just two victories from late January through mid-April that really saw their campaign come unstuck.
Change was needed and it came in a 2-1 win away to Middlesbrough in which Arsene Wenger debuted the 3-4-2-1 system that has propelled their recent run of form. The underlying statistics suggest they’ve had a fair amount of fortune, while the comprehensive manner in which they were outplayed by Tottenham Hotspur in their derby defeat showed that their implementation of the system is still far from perfect, but top-line results have certainly improved.
Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil have both benefited from the formation change. They have directly contributed to seven of the 13 goals Arsenal have scored over the course of their last seven matches, with three of those goals seeing one of them assist the other. When working well in unison, they are a tough pair to keep tabs on, and they will be key to Arsenal’s hopes of victory this Sunday.
Everton have enjoyed a very solid season in Ronald Koeman’s first campaign at the helm. After consecutive 11th-place finishes under previous coach Roberto Martinez, they are guaranteed to finish seventh this time around regardless of results on the final day. There have been some ups and downs but the overall picture has been positive.
The real intrigue lies in whether they can build on this and secure a top-six finish next season. They have comfortably been the best of the rest during this campaign (indeed, they could finish as close as two points behind Manchester United in sixth depending on results this weekend) but it is likely to be a summer of change at Goodison Park. Top-scorer Romelu Lukaku is possibly on his way out and the future of Ross Barkley still uncertain.
Koeman is a wily enough coach and did good work at Southampton despite the regular comings and goings. But there is a difference between making the best of challenging circumstances and leading your team to seventh or eighth and in being the figurehead of a project that can truly challenge those above. The club and Koeman will have to be smart and united in their planning if they are to make that next step.
On Sunday, the Dutchman is certainly capable of setting up a side to frustrate his hosts, but Arsenal come into the game in very good form and with key attacking players performing well. They have a greater incentive to put everything into the match and that should be sufficient to just about edge them to a victory that may yet allow them to keep their run of top-four finishes going for another season.