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Apr 24, 2014

Race for fourth will go to the wire

The FC crew discuss Arsene Wenger's decision to stay with Arsenal beyond 2014.

The intense battle for fourth place between Arsenal and Everton gives the Premier League another dimension.

We've got the relegation scrap, the three-way title race and also the struggle for a top-four finish, with its accompanying spot in next season's Champions League. Interestingly, Everton boss Roberto Martinez reckons his team need only seven points to finish fourth, even though they are a point behind Arsenal.

That means Martinez fancies Arsenal to slip up somewhere along the line in their final three games of the season.

Arsenal entertain Newcastle on Monday, face West Brom at the Emirates the following Sunday, and go to Norwich on the final day of the season.

Interestingly, Newcastle come to the Emirates on the back of their worst-ever run of results after five straight defeats in the Premier League.

I'm a great believer that these sorts of statistics are there for a reason and they have to finish sometime. Will Newcastle really suffer a sixth straight defeat? They've never done so before.

Manager Alan Pardew is also back on the bench and, despite their turmoil, Newcastle have some decent players in their squad. I don't think it'll be a walkover even if Arsenal are getting some players back.

Thomas Vermaelen should be fit to come in if required at left-back. And he is required with Kieran Gibbs still out, because Nacho Monreal has been a real weak link in recent games.

Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey both looked sharp at Hull and can be a timely lift, and all of those players -- plus Jack Wilshere -- will be trying to win FA Cup final places.

Arsenal will therefore be hoping that Everton slip up at Southampton, and then they can really lay down the gauntlet by beating Newcastle.

But judging by how this season has gone so far, there will be another twist in the title race, the relegation scrap and also the duel for fourth.

After Southampton, Everton entertain Manchester City and then go to Hull on the final day, and they may still need something from that game as they are not safe yet. When Arsenal play West Broom, if manager Pepe Mel's men need points to avoid relegation, that will be a more difficult game than some might expect. And on the final day, if Norwich likewise need a result against Arsenal, Carrow Road will be a difficult game for Arsenal and manager Arsene Wenger.

It just highlights how exciting the Premier League has been this season. In fact, on the final day there may be potentially just one game -- Manchester United against Southampton -- with nothing riding on it.

What this means is that neither Arsenal nor Everton can expect to have it easy in their run-in. Both could slip up.

Arsenal are favourites, but Everton are in fine form. Rather like the past few seasons, Arsenal will have to hold their nerve, ride their luck and possibly win every game to finish fourth.

Perhaps also the fans who mock the notion of fourth being worth a trophy will appreciate just how valuable the Champions League is. Sometimes you don't miss something until it's gone.

Maybe the last few weeks have woken Arsenal up to the need to finish fourth as well as win the FA Cup. Achieving both would represent a terrific season for Wenger.