Premier League title permutations: How Arsenal and Manchester City can become champions

The Premier League’s title race will go down to the final day of the season.

Manchester City’s 4-0 win against Fulham on Saturday saw them move two points ahead of Arsenal only for the the north Londoners to return to the top of the league with a 1-0 victory against Manchester United at Old Trafford the following day.

Neither result was surprising, but the margin of City’s win could yet prove significant. There is, after all, still the intriguing possibility that the championship is decided on goal difference for just the second time in the Premier League era.

We explain how that scenario can play out — and exactly what each side has to do to claim the title.

The top of the Premier League












Remaining fixtures

Manchester City


  • Everton (H) — May 19 (4pm BST, 11am ET, 8am PT)

Why should neutrals want Spurs-City to be a draw?

If City draw their game in hand against Tottenham tonight, Arsenal would be top going into the final day, courtesy of their better goal difference (61 compared to City’s 58).

That would set up a final-day shootout on Sunday when City host West Ham and Everton travel to Arsenal. Assuming both sides win those games — and neither of their opponents has anything other than pride to play for — City would need to better Arsenal’s victory by three goals.


So, for example, if Arsenal beat Everton a single goal, City would need to win by four. If Arsenal defeat Everton by two goals, City would have to win by five… and so on.

In those scenarios, the two teams’ goal difference would be level but City would win the league because they would have scored more goals than Mikel Arteta’s side. City currently have 91 goals to Arsenal’s 89, and it is implausible for the Londoners to overcome that deficit and still not be ahead of City on goal difference by full time on Sunday.

Such a close finish would be unprecedented in the Premier League era. In 2012, City and Manchester United finished level on points at the top of the table but the former’s goal difference was far superior (eight goals).

This scenario would doubtless be unbearable for fans of both clubs — but for broadcasters and neutrals, it would be compelling viewing.

What other factors decide the title if both teams finish level on points?

There is no scenario in which goal difference or goals scored does not decide this year’s title race. But there are other methods of deciding the league if, in the future, goal difference and goals scored do not settle it.

The next scenario would be the team who won the most points in the head-to-head matches

To give the example of this season, Arsenal have the head-to-head advantage over City. They beat City 1-0 at the Emirates Stadium in October before the teams played out a goalless draw at the Etihad Stadium in March.



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Arsenal's 1-0 win against Manchester United was crucial for their title hopes (Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Arsenal’s 1-0 win against Manchester United was crucial for their title hopes (Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Forget a draw tonight — how else can City can win the title?

If City win against Tottenham tonight, the task is relatively simple: they will be two points ahead of Arsenal, and will know that equalling or bettering their result on the final day will be enough.

If City defeat Spurs but then draw with West Ham, and Arsenal win against Everton, then we are back in goal-difference territory again.

City have already faced Tottenham away this season, winning 1-0 in January's FA Cup fourth-round win (Photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

City have already faced Tottenham away this season, winning 1-0 in January’s FA Cup fourth-round (Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)


Why have Manchester City’s Premier League charges not been dealt with yet?

And what about Arsenal?

Following City’s victory over Fulham on Saturday, Arsenal knew they realistically had to win both their games to have a chance at securing their first Premier League title since the 2003-04 season.

They did the first part of their job on Sunday with a 1-0 win over Manchester United thanks to Leandro Trossard’s first-half goal, a result which firmly puts the pressure on City ahead of their game in hand.

But the title is not in their own hands, as they need City to drop points somewhere to stand a chance.

To recap: if City were to lose against Tottenham, Arsenal would need to equal or better their result on the final day; and if City were to get four points from their final two games, Arsenal would just have to make sure their goal difference remains better than Pep Guardiola’s side.

While complicated, it is potentially thrilling.



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(Top photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images))

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