Premier League top four: Assessing the chances of Arsenal, Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea and the outsiders

Premier League top four: We assess each side's chances of finishing in the Champions League places
Premier League top four: We assess each side's chances of finishing in the Champions League places

The 2019/20 Premier League season may be just four games old, but we are already starting to get a good idea of contenders in various parts of the table.

Manchester City and Liverpool appear to be a cut above the rest again and, barring any dramatic improvements from the chasing pack, it looks like it will be a two-horse race for the title.

Then there is the top four - or, now, the big six.

The remaining four - Arsenal, Man United, Tottenham and Chelsea - should be battling it out for the remaining two places, but there are enough early warning signs about all of them to think that this is a great year for a team to break into the Champions League spots.

We take a look at the current state of play and see who could make the cut come May...


Arsenal

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette: Arsenal duo celebrate during the win over Burnley
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette: Arsenal duo celebrate

Currently fifth with seven points from their opening 12, Unai Emery's side have started reasonably well and they are still yet to properly hit their stride.

They beat Burnley and Newcastle, drawing with rivals Tottenham in the north London derby and losing away at Liverpool. They are still learning under Unai Emery and the dangers they possess in attack could be the difference between them making the top four and missing out.

In Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, they have last season's joint-top scorer. He links up well with Alexandre Lacazette, who also contributed double figures last season. Both of the forwards are already off the mark this term with three and two respectively to their name.

Then there's Nicolas Pepe, their record signing who has shown glimpses of his potential since arriving from Lille. The 23-year-old possesses undoubted quality and you feel he just needs a goal to get off the mark.

It is all well and good having this attack, but Nacho Monreal departed before the end of the European transfer deadline last week, leaving Emery's men even shorter at the back.

David Luiz is a typical Arsenal signing with him being prone to catastrophic lapses of concentration at the back, while any of his centre-back partners fail to inspire for a side with the Gunners' aspirations.

Between now and the next international break in October, Arsenal have a reasonably kind fixture list, with just Man United to play from the big six, and it is a great chance for them to get ahead of their rivals in the race.

They have shown improvements, though. For example, their performance against the well-oiled machine in Liverpool was much better than last season's at Anfield. Unusually for their forwards, they just failed to take their chances when it mattered.

But, like a modern-day gym-goer with tiny legs, Arsenal are incredibly top heavy. Well built in attack, but short in defence - and that has got to be a worry.


Man United

Daniel James beats Kepa Arrizabalaga to score for Manchester United
Daniel James beats Kepa Arrizabalaga to score for Manchester United

Some of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's problems from last season seem to have continued, but his squad is lighter and rid of the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez and Matteo Darmian as he looks for the mood to change and leaders to step up.

Harry Maguire's arrival was left late in the summer, just before the season got underway, and the defence is still finding its feet but Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Dan James all look like promising signings.

There is a lot to like about this side when they are on song, with devastating pace on the counter, but sides are learning to deal with that and contain them, and there doesn't look like enough guile in the team to pick apart a packed defence.

Solskjaer has been frustrated with wasted chances by the likes of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial so far after winning just one of their opening four, while they cannot expect to finish in the top four if they continue to drop points against the likes of Crystal Palace and Southampton.

They have failed to replace Ander Herrera in the middle, so in his absence Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic need to start performing to a high standard on a consistent basis.

A 4-0 opening day win over Chelsea was a huge boost, though, and they face a test with Leicester, Arsenal and Liverpool all to come in their next five fixtures.

It feels like things are still yet to click for them under Solskjaer when the season is already four games old and it could leave them playing catch up.


Tottenham

Harry Kane: Tottenham forward celebrates his second goal in the comeback against Aston Villa
Harry Kane: Tottenham forward celebrates his second goal in the comeback against Aston Villa

It has been a very un-Tottenham-like start from the north Londoners.

Mauricio Pochettino has been complaining, his squad have been 'unsettled' and the results have not followed as they would have liked.

Is it a combination of a Champions League final hangover and the interference of the European transfer window? Possibly. But Spurs need to up the ante after the international break.

They did look much improved in the north London derby draw at Arsenal, but to throw away a two-goal lead is incredibly disappointing for Pochettino whether they were away or not.

They have won one, drawn two and lost a disappointing home clash with Newcastle but, being the Spurs we know, they should be able to come strong.

Despite the summer signing their squad depth could be a worry given a couple of key injuries - and their defence has looked a far cry from the usual cohesive unit.

The fact they have collected just 31 points from 66 in the calendar year does not make for good reading, especially when Man City and Liverpool have taken 61 and 55 respectively.

Their next four fixtures are favourable before the October international break, Leicester being the toughest on paper, which presents them with a good chance to stop a gap opening up between them, the title chasers and the top four.


Chelsea

Frank Lampard, left, and Tammy Abraham celebrate the striker's first goal in Chelsea's 3-2 win at Norwich
Frank Lampard, left, and Tammy Abraham celebrate the striker's first goal in Chelsea's 3-2 win at Norwich

Chelsea are arguably in transition under Frank Lampard, who is continuing to learn about Premier League management as well as his young squad.

As well as a thrashing at Man United, they have won one (away at Norwich) and drawn three as Lampard's wait for a Stamford Bridge win goes on.

Losing a two-goal half-time lead to newly-promoted Sheffield United at the weekend is poor though and errors like that across the course of the season could ultimately cost them their place.

After early questions were asked of him, Tammy Abraham silenced his doubters with a brace in back-to-back games. If the goals dry up for him at some stage though, it has to be a worry for Lampard, who also has to juggle the league campaign with the Carabao Cup, FA Cup and Champions League.


IN SHORT: The outsiders

Wilfred Ndidi celebrates his goal against Chelsea
Brendan Rodgers' Leicester have made an unbeaten start to 2019/20
  • Leicester (8/1 for top four): Brendan Rodgers' side could be best equipped to break the top six this season. They currently sit third after an unbeaten start, have had Caglar Soyuncu step up to help ease the loss of Harry Maguire (more on him here) and have plenty of promise in attack, Youri Tielemans and James Maddison with the potential to provide for Jamie Vardy - a player thriving again under Rodgers' management. If they can pick up points against the big boys (they have already drawn with Chelsea), then they are in with a chance.
  • Wolves (20/1 for top four): A team that looked genuinely close last season, Europa League involvement could derail their chances. The competition affected Burnley last term and Wolves' talented squad has already shown signs of struggling to cope with the demands of Thursday-Sunday football on a regular basis. With qualifying, their season started in late July and they are yet to register a league win, with three draws and a loss (all following midweek European games). Now they have qualified for the group stages, it could continue to affect their league form and see them loitering around mid-table.
  • West Ham (20/1 for top four): Manuel Pellegrini's side look to have got a 20+ goal a season striker in Sebastien Haller, but will that be enough to push them towards the top six? As well as the £45million Frenchman, they have a talented attack with Pablo Fornals, Manuel Lanzini, Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko, who will be like a new signing after his injury last season. Their defence is where question marks will be raised but early season performances suggest they could be in the top half of the table and pushing for Europe.
  • Everton (11/1 for top four): Looking at Everton's attack, you would expect plenty of threats in the final third. But a drought in pre-season spilled into the early stages of the campaign and they scored just one goal in their opening three matches. Marco Silva's side picked up their second win at the weekend though, with Richarlison scoring a brace in a 3-2 win over top-six rivals Wolves. The Brazilian took a while to get going after international duty in the summer, but if he, Alex Iwobi, Moise Kean and co. can find their shooting boots they could be a real force. Only five sides have collected more points in the calendar year and their home record was a real positive for Silva's men to take into 2019/20 - they just now have to improve on the road.

Verdict:

While a gap has opened between the top two and the rest of the Premier League in the last couple of seasons, the 'best of the rest' are closing in on the remaining sides in the big six. Tottenham, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea have all shown frailties and if they slip up too often the likes of Leicester, Everton and West Ham could be there to punish them.

Those sides on the fringes need to start taking points off the big guns and, if they can do that, they are in with a real chance.

In our outright preview, we tipped Leicester for a good campaign and we are happy to stick with them as the most likely side to break the monopoly, but top four could be a step too far at this time.

Brendan Rodgers' side could keep up the pace and make it too difficult for Chelsea to catch them in the top six and, who knows, a year out of Europe may be beneficial to Frank Lampard's side in their development.

Top four: Man City, Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal (9/1 exact order)

Top six: Man United (4/9) and Leicester (2/1)

Harvey Barnes celebrates his goal against Sheffield United
Harvey Barnes celebrates his goal against Sheffield United


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LISTEN: Our football team run through the latest news, views and incidents from the Premier League

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Odds via Sky Bet and correct as of 1050 BST on 03/09/19

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