Battle for the final top four spot will come down to the last day of the season but Reds hold advantage
WELL, Arsenal have at least taken their Champions League bid to the last game of the season… and all the pressure is firmly on Liverpool to get over the line.
Forget Manchester City, three points ahead, being caught… that is not going to happen.
It is very unlikely that City will not only lose – but there will be a five goal swing in Arsenal’s favour on goal difference. That would be fantasy football.
Without doubt, though, the Gunners have the tougher game – at home to Everton – while Jurgen Klopp’s side, just one point in front, face already-doomed Middlesbrough on their own turf.
But if Arsenal can get their noses in front early and news reaches Anfield that Liverpool are outside the top four then things could get very edgy indeed.
Arsene Wenger’s side showed great patience against a Sunderland team that were surprisingly resolute, thanks mainly to the fantastic goalkeeping of Jordan Pickford.
The keeper surely will be at a Premier League club next season and Gareth Southgate really ought to be looking at elevating him into the senior England squad. He really is that good.
There is something of the Joe Hart about him – and could he be the on-loan Manchester City keeper’s long-term successor for his country?
OK, sure, it is too early to be certain that he will be the real deal – but he is fast looking it.
It is small wonder that David Moyes says that only an unbelievable offer will prise him away from the Stadium of Light.
His Sunderland future will all depend on whether a Premier League club is prepared to take a gamble and pay big bucks for him.
You would have to say that Liverpool and Manchester City could do with decent goalkeepers – but would Pickford be the sort of ball-playing stopper that Pep Guardiola would like?
Probably, at this stage of his career, not.
Klopp is currently playing the last keeper Liverpool bought from Sunderland – Simon Mignolet – and you would have to say Pickford looks a better bet than the Belgian.
Jermain Defoe will almost certainly be in the Premier League next season too – maybe at West Ham, who were interested in snapping him up in January.
Defoe was a livewire and told me afterwards how he should have at least buried one of his chances.
But, back to Arsenal, who have looked much better since Wenger reverted to an Antonio Conte-style three-man defence.
They have won six out of their last eight – losing away to Tottenham. There is much more confidence in their play.
If they do ultimately miss out on a top-four place – and they are favourites to not qualify for the Champions League – the damage was done earlier.
Confusion over Arsene Wenger’s future, fans protests, injury problems, inconsistent form and continued speculation over the futures of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez have blighted their season.
But could there be one more twist to this tale… and Arsenal pull off what would be a minor miracle?
It will be the main focus on Sunday on a Premier League season that has come to an anti-climatic end with all the other major issues decided.
Not many people will be putting money on it – but stranger things have happened.