‘A long road in to the end of May!’
Gary Neville summed up the feeling of most Manchester United fans the morning after their dismal exit from the Champions League.
Not that there was anything remotely surprising about this United side being out-smarted by an Atletico Madrid team who specialise in football’s dark arts.
So that will be a fifth straight season without silverware for United but they do still have plenty to play for between now and the end of the season, even if it’s tempting to write it off as a hopeless cause.
Dejected Manchester United players trudge off after their Champions League defeat to Atletico Madrid on Tuesday night as they crashed out at the last-16 stage
Interim manager Ralf Rangnick will have failed if United don’t finish in the top four
It’s very much advantage Arsenal with the Gunners already fourth and with games in hand
Arsenal, in fourth, have a one-point lead over Manchester United with two games in hand
Ralf Rangnick and his demoralised players face an uphill struggle from here to finish in the Premier League top four and qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Arsenal are undoubtedly in the box seat and if United’s form collapses completely it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility they could be in the Europa Conference League next season or even out of Europe entirely.
West Ham, Wolves and Tottenham are all snapping at their heels in a scramble for European places, so nothing is guaranteed.
United legend turned pundit Gary Neville summed things up with a tweet saying United have a ‘long road in to the end of May’ as they pick up the pieces from their European exit
However, it’s Arsenal vs United that is, for the moment, the main battle for fourth position and we take a week-by-week look at how this could unfold.
At the moment, Arsenal are in fourth and a point ahead of United in fifth. Crucially, however, Mikel Arteta’s side have two games in hand.
MARCH 19 – Aston Villa vs Arsenal
United aren’t in action this weekend – they had been set to face Liverpool at Anfield but this was put back after Klopp’s side reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.
Arsenal do play another one of their games in hand, however, heading to Aston Villa.
Steven Gerrard’s team are very hit and miss, so you’d expect Arsenal to take all three points, opening up a handy buffer to United going into a fortnight of international matches.
Predicted points tally: Arsenal 54pts; United 50pts
APRIL 2/4 – Man United vs Leicester/Crystal Palace vs Arsenal
United will have had plenty of time to dwell on their European exit, for better or worse, by the time they next play, at home to Leicester on Saturday April 2.
We may see all that pent-up frustration manifest itself in a strong response that brings three points or we may see player morale at rock bottom and further setbacks.
Really though, United should be taking all three points against a Leicester side having an underwhelming season.
Arsenal’s match at Crystal Palace on the Monday night looks the trickier. Patrick Vieira has made his Palace side hard to beat and you can imagine them keeping his former club at bay in a draw.
Predicted points tally: Arsenal 55pts; United 53pts
United now have a long pause before their next game with plenty of time to stew on their exit
APRIL 9 – Everton vs Man United/Arsenal vs Brighton
United head to Goodison Park the following Saturday lunchtime and they will be favourites to take all three points against an Everton side who are staring relegation squarely in the face.
Though you never can tell with this United side, they should prove too strong for Frank Lampard’s ailing team.
Arsenal host Brighton later in the day and should stay above United in fourth with a straightforward win.
Predicted points tally: Arsenal 58pts; United 56pts
APRIL 16 – Man United vs Norwich/Southampton vs Arsenal
These two clubs have plenty of appeal to an armchair audience and its’s pretty rare to see them both in action at 3pm on a Saturday. That, however, is the case on April 16.
And both are strong favourites to win. United surely have too much for a Norwich side likely to still be rock bottom of the table, even if they laboured to a 1-0 win at Carrow Road back in December.
Southampton, meanwhile, have really gone off the boil in recent weeks and the Gunners should take all three points from St Mary’s to stay ahead in the race for fourth.
Predicted points tally: Arsenal 61pts; United 59pts
Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Leicester on Sunday was their fifth consecutive win in the league
APRIL 19/20 – Liverpool vs Man United/Chelsea vs Arsenal
An intriguing midweek. On the Tuesday night, United head to Anfield for the fixture rearranged from this weekend.
You simply cannot see them getting anything out of the game. Liverpool battered them 5-0 at Old Trafford and a similar humiliation could await them on Merseyside if Klopp’s team hit full stride.
Which leaves Arsenal an opportunity to shore up fourth spot at Stamford Bridge 24 hours later. It’s hard to know precisely what Chelsea’s off-field situation will be by then but you can see Arsenal coming away with a point.
Predicted points tally: Arsenal 62pts; United 59pts
United were thrashed 5-0 by Liverpool at Old Trafford and won’t relish a trip to Anfield
APRIL 23 – Arsenal vs Man United
So by the time our two protagonists meet at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday April 23, it should still be the Gunners sitting fairly comfortably in fourth.
Though United beat them at Old Trafford back in December, they’ve regressed since then and it’s hard to imagine them taking all three points here.
But you can see it being a tense affair that ends up with honours even in a score draw. This would, of course, be more satisfactory for Arteta’s team.
Predicted points tally: Arsenal 63pts; United 60pts
Cristiano Ronaldo’s goals helped United to a 3-2 victory over Arsenal in the reverse fixture
MAY 1/2 – West Ham vs Arsenal/Man United vs Brentford
Onto May and the final throes of the Premier League season.
There’s still all to play for in the race for fourth spot though Arsenal have an advantage and still have the luxury of a game in hand (more on that below).
Arsenal play first, heading across town to West Ham on the Sunday afternoon. It’s possible the Hammers will still be fighting for a European spot themselves and regardless will make it a good test. You can see it ending all-square.
And that will give United a glimmer of hope provided they win at home to Brentford on the Monday night, which they really should.
United could be just a single point behind by this stage but that depends on when Arsenal’s trip to Tottenham is rearranged for.
Predicted points tally: Arsenal 64pts; United 63pts
MAY 7 (TBC) – Arsenal vs Leeds/Brighton vs Man United
The remaining games of the season haven’t been picked for television yet so we don’t know for certain who’ll play when.
But Arsenal’s next assignment is a home fixture with Leeds. The Yorkshire side could be safe by then or scrapping for their top-flight lives but you can only see one winner at the Emirates.
United, meanwhile, travel to Brighton, who aren’t likely to have a lot to play for in their comfortable mid-table position. Rangnick’s side should prove too strong.
Predicted points tally: Arsenal 67pts; United 66pts
Bukayo Saka has been impressive this season and will be crucial to Arsenal’s top-four hopes
MAY 15 (TBC) – Man United vs Chelsea/Newcastle vs Arsenal
The penultimate round of the season sees United host Chelsea with the Blues likely to have already secured their Champions League spot for 2022-23.
You imagine that will play into United’s hands but equally they have struggled when confronted with any form of decent opposition this season, making a draw most likely.
Arsenal, meanwhile, make the trip to Newcastle who should have little to play for by then. They’re much improved from the start of the campaign and this could also well be a draw.
Predicted points tally: Arsenal 68pts; United 67pts
MAY 22 – Arsenal vs Everton/Crystal Palace vs Man United
The final Sunday of the season sees everyone in action simultaneously and of course it remains to be seen whether the top-four race goes down to the wire.
Arsenal have home advantage against Everton, who may still be fighting for their lives, and you’d expect them to take all three points.
United, meanwhile, head to Selhurst Park in the final match of Rangnick’s interim tenure. Palace aren’t easy to beat and you can again see that being drawn, meaning Arsenal take fourth spot and United have to settle for the Europa League.
Predicted points tally: Arsenal 71pts; United 68pts
Fred scored the winner as United beat Crystal Palace at home in Ralf Rangnick’s first game
To be arranged – Tottenham vs Arsenal
The Gunners also have one final ace up their sleeve and that’s their final game in hand – a north London derby at Tottenham.
You may remember this was postponed in controversial circumstances back in January after Arsenal claimed they didn’t have enough players available because of Covid, injuries and Africa Cup of Nations call-ups.
No date for the rearranged game has yet been announced but obviously anything Arsenal take out of it will further strengthen their position over United.
P.S. West Ham, Wolves and Spurs are ready to strike!
Just to compound United’s woes, three clubs are lying in wait for them to drop points during the run-in.
Sixth-placed West Ham are just two points behind and Wolves in seventh are four back, both having played the same number of games as United.
Tottenham are two points behind United but do retain a game in hand.
How the top eight in the Premier League table looks with West Ham, Wolves and Tottenham all still in contention for the European places