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May 15, 2013

Arsenal, Chelsea could play-off for UCL

Arsenal and Chelsea could face a play-off for the final automatic Champions League place if they finish with identical records after Sunday's games, the Premier League has confirmed to ESPN, but finding a date will prove problematic.

• Marcotti backs play-off

The two teams go into the final round of matches two points and one goal apart in terms of goal difference with a realistic possibility that they could end up inseparable. Both teams would have the same points, goals scored and goals conceded.

The team which finishes third in the Premier League will go directly into the Champions League group stage, while fourth place will enter in the play-off round, with the tie to be played over two legs on August 20-21 and 27-28.

Arsenal's 4-1 win over Wigan on Tuesday means a 2-1 victory for the Gunners at Newcastle, coupled with a 0-0 draw between Everton and Chelsea, would force a play-off. The same would apply to any scoreline between the two clubs which adds a goal to all four teams: so 3-2 and 1-1 or 4-3 and 2-2.

Premier League rule C.14 states: "If at the end of the season either the League Champions or the clubs to be relegated or the question of qualification for other competitions cannot be determined because two or more clubs are equal on points, goal difference and goals scored, the clubs concerned shall play off one or more deciding league matches on neutral grounds, the format, timing and venue of which shall be determined by the board."

Chelsea won both league games this season 2-1 but the Premier League does not recognise head-to-head as a tie-breaker, unlike the Football League and most European leagues.

Scheduling a play-off would prove very difficult for the Premier League. Wembley Stadium would be the logical choice as a neutral venue in London, but it is booked for the Champions League final on Saturday, May 25, the Championship play-off final on Monday, May 27 and England's friendly with Ireland on May 29.

England will expect to have their players released by both clubs, as would the many other national teams whose players represent the respective sides. There are international games scheduled every day at the start of June, with Brazil facing England in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday, June 2. Even if that Saturday was a viable date for the clubs, Wembley is already booked for the International Stadiums Poker Tour.

June 3 to 13 is an official FIFA international break for World Cup qualifiers, and the UEFA European Under-21 Championships also starts on June 5. The Confederations Cup, featuring Brazil, Spain and Nigeria, then begins on June 15 and runs until the end of the month. It means it could be July before a viable date is available, but UEFA requires qualifying clubs to submit official entry documents no later than June 3, 2013.

Even if the Premier League hoped to play the game on the weekend of May 25 at a venue other than Wembley, such as Tottenham's White Hart Lane, Chelsea will be in the United States that weekend to play two money-spinning games against Manchester City and will fly out at the start of the week.

• Twitter: @dalejohnsonESPN

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