Football: Reds can win race to Europe

Football: Reds can win race to Europe

The title race might be almost down to one horse, but the chase for Champions League spots has never been closer. Here's a look at the three main contenders...

ARSENAL

THE CASE FOR:

Monaco are poised to put down another whimpering campaign in Europe and the Gunners can focus all resources on Arsene Wenger's "trophy hunt" of finishing in the top four.

While the bottoms squeak, Arsenal hit the road for trips against relegation contenders Hull City, Burnley and Queens Park Rangers.

While such matches take on schizophrenic qualities, with the bottom feeders fighting for their lives, there's no doubt that Wenger's men have the easier run-in away from home.

In such contests, Olivier Giroud's plodding may prove decisive. If ever a player defined his reasonable, no-frills price tag, it's the mercurial Frenchman.

Stick him up front against the Premier League's less-than-cerebral defences and he'll find the net eventually.

He's a timid rabbit in the Champions League headlights, however, and games against Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United may see the striker hit the ceiling of his talent, but goals against lesser lights should suffice.

The return to form of Mesut Oezil, along with Tomas Rosicky's welcome renaissance and Santi Cazorla's revelatory campaign, should be enough for Wenger to win his top-four "trophy" once more.

THE CASE AGAINST:

Those mental frailties continue to eat away at Arsenal's psyche.

While others rise to the biggest games and the most significant occasions, the Gunners frequently fall.

When opponents break Francis Coquelin, they break Arsenal. The defence falters under questioning from quick, counter-attacking opponents.

Per Mertesacker had to be dropped against Everton after his Monaco mangling, but his replacement Gabriel Paulista occasionally struggled against Romelu Lukaku's physicality.

One centre back seems over the hill, while the other is unproven in the EPL pressure cooker. At the other end, more worryingly, Alexis Sanchez has mislaid his scoring boots. He might need to find them in Arsenal's final away game of the season… at Old Trafford.

Current position: 3rd, 51 points

Predicted final position: 4th (if Sanchez starts scoring again)

MAN UNITED

THE CASE FOR:

In the decisive final month, three of their final four fixtures are against West Brom, Crystal Palace and Hull.

David de Gea remains the most reliable goalkeeper in the EPL and Wayne Rooney is a man for all seasons, and all positions.

The skipper's (above) experience makes him the most reliable source for invention and industry. His armband will be much more than a symbolic gesture in the coming weeks.

THE CASE AGAINST:

Look at the "case for" again. A goalkeeper with one eye on Real Madrid and an ageing, out-of-position striker with one foot in retirement are about as good as it gets for the fallen aristocrats of the English game.

Louis van Gaal's biggest stumbling block is Louis van Gaal. His dubious tactics and irritating tinkering are clearly taking their toll on a bewildered dressing room. As with David Moyes, United are not Wikileaks.

They run a tight ship. But one can't help thinking that if the Dutchman were to be sacked tomorrow, the players' agents would be ringing every major newspaper with one angst-ridden exclusive after another.

Both Rooney and Angel di Maria are being played in just about every position but their own. Rooney displays his bullish, British stiff upper lip but the Argentinian betrays the wide-eyed disbelief of a road accident eye-witness. He can't believe what's going on around him.

Despite winning against Sunderland and Burnley, van Gaal wasn't happy with either performance, nor were the disgruntled supporters.

They know a disjointed, dispirited, disorganised side when they see one. They endured most of last season under Moyes.

United's luck can't last. Nor can they meander past minnows every week.

As the season winds down, they host Tottenham, Manchester City and Arsenal and head to the Etihad and the Emirates.

Adrenalin can only take them so far. United will struggle to finish fifth, let alone fourth.

By the end of May, Old Trafford decision-makers will look wistfully at Stamford Bridge and realise, once again, that they should've gone for the old apprentice, rather than the antiquated old master.

Current position: 4th

Predicted final position: 5th (if they're lucky)

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