Opinion: Liverpool are fighting Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur for top four

Opinion: Liverpool are fighting Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur for top four

As Christmas looms, the Premier League table is beginning to take shape. Manchester City are into the distance, Manchester United and Chelsea could be scrapping for second, with fourth place and Champions League football up for grabs between Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham (but surely not Burnley?)

Ben Lockett

Despite unleashing the Fab Four on Wednesday night, Liverpool could only manage a 0-0 stalemate at Anfield against Alan Pardew's West Bromwich Albion.

The Baggies have been producing relegation form throughout 2017 but managed to stifle Mohamed Salah, Philippe Coutinho and co. and leave the Reds to stew upon successive home draws in the Premier League.

Sam Allardyce, another troublesome opponent for Jürgen Klopp and Liverpool, had previously guided Everton to a 0-0 draw in the Merseyside derby.

Everton, as with West Brom, had little incentive to active and instead parked the bus. It may not be a pretty tactic but it continues to have success against the Reds. 

Where the Reds stand

As a result, Liverpool have once again slipped outside the Premier League's top four, with Arsenal sneaking back in.

Chelsea's back-to-back wins over Huddersfield Town and Southampton have given Antonio Conte's side some breathing space to those chasing behind, namely Tottenham, Liverpool, Arsenal and, for the moment, Burnley.

Sean Dyche has somehow managed to perch Burnley above Liverpool in the top six, and could yet secure European football in a dream season. 

Manchester City's victory in the Manchester derby emphasised their dominance over the Premier League and rivals Manchester United, and they backed this up with wins against Swansea City and Spurs. Pep Guardiola and his team are over the hills and far away.

Meanwhile, the financial power of United and Chelsea looks set to see them battle it out for second place, leaving only one Champions League place left. 

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Spurs' chances

Tottenham may feel aggrieved to be mentioned alongside Arsenal and Liverpool in a fight for the final place at Europe's top table for next season. Mauricio Pochettino's young, dynamic group are the only team to have challenged for the Premier League title in both of the last two seasons.

However, in both years they came up short, and even suffered the embarrassment of finishing third to Arsenal in 2015 after being hammered on the final day of the season by already relegated Newcastle United.

The pressure in on Spurs to win trophies, but they have been inconsistent in the league this season. Their stunning Champions League campaign, where they finished as winners of a group containing defending champions Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, may have drained Tottenham physically and emotionally. Although the knockout stage is now two months away and their thoughts should only be on the Premier League.

Yet replicating the form of the last two seasons may be a bridge too far for Tottenham, even if their form at Wembley is improving. The same core of players each year are being asked to consistently perform at exceptionally high standards, on a far tighter budget to those above them. For this season, they are alongside their North London rivals and the red half of Merseyside. 

Can Arsenal get back into the Champions League?

Arsenal missed out on Champions League qualification for the first time in two decades, contenting themselves with the Europa League for this season.

In fairness, Europe's secondary competition has allowed Arsène Wenger to rotate his team completely and provide all of his squad with game-time, and they still progressed comfortably as winners of their group.

If Arsenal reach the latter stages of the Europa League, they should focus on going all the way in the competition, given the prize of Champions League football for the winners. Manchester United demonstrated the merits of the Europa League route last season, with Liverpool so nearly doing the same in 2016.

Nevertheless, Arsenal are in a top four fight as well, and will have to make tough decisions in the spring with regards to priorities, despite the talent and depth of their squad.

Arsenal could soon enter a transitional phase as Wenger surely nears the end of his managerial career at the Emirates, while Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil look likely to leave soon, with their contracts expiring at the end of the season. Consequently, Arsenal's need to be in the Champions League is stronger than ever, as top players will be needed to replace those who depart.

Liverpool's odds

Liverpool have not experienced back-to-back seasons of Champions League football since the days of Rafael Benítez. Whilst all Liverpool fans dream of the Premier League title, Jürgen Klopp has been making small, realistic steps of progression since arriving at Anfield in October 2015.

Liverpool's German manager carries such an positive aura that he has lifted Anfield out of its relative doldrums and turned Liverpool into an attractive proposition again for the very best players.

If not for the fracas with Southampton, the Reds would have beaten Chelsea and Manchester City to the signing of Virgil van Dijk, while the captures of Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah and Naby Keïta show the club is moving in the right direction.

There will be stumbling blocks, such as the last two draws, but Klopp's long-term plan for success remains intact.

However, as with Tottenham and Arsenal, that plan relies on consistent top four finishes and Champions League football, otherwise Liverpool will never develop into one of the world's true elite once again, resisting the advances of superpowers such as Barcelona and Real Madrid permanently (Philippe Coutinho may be at Liverpool for now, but his love for the Nou Camp means the Brazilian's departure is inevitable).

Liverpool also do not possess the financial muscle of Chelsea or the two Manchester clubs, so Klopp is right to continue his smart and careful shaping of Liverpool into a side that can compete for trophies.

With Christmas round the corner however, the season really starts now for Liverpool – meaning wins, no more draws.