Perfect day for Tottenham in Premier League’s top-4 fight
It was a Premier League day that could hardly have gone any better for Tottenham.
With its 4-0 win at Aston Villa — inspired by Son Heung-min’s hat trick — and losses for both Arsenal and Manchester United on Saturday, Tottenham became favorite to claim the fourth and final Champions League qualification spot.
Antonio Conte’s team is hitting form just as its rivals are imploding and now has a three-point cushion in fourth place over Arsenal, which slumped 2-1 at home to Brighton for a third loss in its last fourth games.
As for United, a 1-0 loss at an Everton team that had been in freefall constituted another low in what has turned into a desperate season. One, remarkably, that could yet end without qualification for European competition.
United is in seventh place, six points behind Tottenham and with plenty of traffic between them.
In Son, Harry Kane and Dejan Kulusevski, Tottenham has an attacking triumvirate that is proving impossible to keep down, and they scored and assisted all four goals against Villa.
Son now has six goals in his last three league games, having opened the scoring in the third minute after a shot from Kane deflected into his path at the edge of the area. His finish was unforgiving, kissing the post on its way in just like his third goal — in the 71st and off a pass from Kulusevski — which completed his first hat trick of the season.
Two glancing headers from Kane set up the other goals from Kulusevski and Son in the 50th and 66th minutes.
Tottenham and Arsenal meet in their third-to-last matches of the season, respectively. Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta will just be hoping his team isn’t out of the running by then.
The absences of first-choice left back Kieran Tierney and influential holding midfielder Thomas Partey are proving significant for Arsenal, disrupting the team’s defensive solidity established under Arteta.
Five days after a 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace, Arsenal was undone by goals from Leandro Trossard and Enock Mwepu for Brighton. Martin Odegaard scored an 89th-minute consolation for Arsenal.
“We know with the team we have available the difficult challenge we have ahead, that is for sure,” Arteta said. “The injuries make the situation more complicated but we are not looking for excuses.”
One positive for Arsenal is the game in hand it has over Tottenham, though that is a rearranged meeting with third-place Chelsea.
With a spot in the Champions League on the line, United has been held to a draw at home by Leicester and now lost to a relegation-threatened team in Everton.
Anthony Gordon was Everton’s match-winner against United, with his 27th-minute effort deflecting in off the outstretched leg of the unfortunate Harry Maguire.
Interim United manager Ralf Rangnick refused to accept that the search for a new manager to take over for next season is leaving the team in limbo
“The players themselves should be eager to play international football, if possible Champions League,” Rangnick said.
“But if we play like we did here, we just don’t deserve it. In order to qualify for Europe you have to be able to score in 95 minutes in a game like this.”
Everton moved four points clear of the bottom three, with third-from-last Burnley visiting Norwich next weekend.
Having lost 9-0 in each of the last two seasons, Southampton looked set to be beaten by a similar scoreline when Chelsea romped into a 6-0 lead after 54 minutes of their match at St. Mary’s Stadium.
Mercifully, Chelsea eased up in the final half-hour ahead of a trip to Real Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday and that’s how the game finished.
Mason Mount and Timo Werner both scored twice while there were also goals for Marcos Alonso and Kai Havertz.
“It seems,” Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl said, “we have to have one game like this a season, which is not nice to watch and very hard to take.”
Chelsea consolidated third place in the league and looks almost certain of returning to the Champions League next season, having moved eight points clear of fifth-place Arsenal. It is 10 points behind second-place Liverpool.
In the day’s other game, next-to-last Watford lost 3-0 to Leeds and slipped six points from safety.
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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80