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Table for Four: The race for the EPL's Champions League spots heats up

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Only three points separate 3rd place from 6th place. Let the pageantry begin.

"How is this guy ahead of us in the table?" Not to fear, Arsene.
"How is this guy ahead of us in the table?" Not to fear, Arsene.
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Harry Kane's double against an out-possessed, out-bullied Arsenal on Saturday might have sent Tottenham fans into a frenzied celebration -- one worthy of better EPL teams upon winning an FA Cup or Premier League Title -- but in reality, the 2-1 win only served to make things interesting in this crucial phase of the 38-week Premier League season.

Assuming that Chelsea (sitting on 56 points) and Man City (sitting on 49 points) are headed to a 1st and 2nd EPL season finish (real talk), there are six teams with a realistic shot at the final two, terribly-important Champions League spots as the 2014-15 season moves into its final third. Here are matters as they currently stand.

Position Team Points GD Form Points from Last 6 Odds to finish 3rd
3 Southampton 45 +21 DWWWLW 13 5/1
4 Manchester United 44 +17 DDLWWD 9 7/5
5 Tottenham 43 +6 DWLWWW 13 14/1
6 Arsenal 42 +18 WLWWWL 12 3/2
7 Liverpool 39 +14 WDWWWD 14 25/1
8 West Ham 37 +8 LDDWLD 6 250/1

Why are the oddsmakers leaning toward Arsenal and United for the final two CL spots? Maybe let's start with how the next six matches shape up for the teams in question.

Team Week 25 Week 26 Week 27 Week 28 Week 29 Week 30 Matches v. Top 8
Southampton West Ham (H) Liverpool (H) West Brom (A) Palace (A) Chelsea (A) Burnley (A) 3
Man United Burnley (H) Swansea (A) Sunderland (H) Newcastle (A) Tottenham (H) Liverpool (A) 2
Tottenham Liverpool (A) West Ham (H) Swansea (H) QPR (A) Man United (A) Leicester (H) 3
Arsenal Leicester (H) Palace (A) Everton (H) QPR (A) West Ham (H) Newcastle (A) 1
Liverpool Tottenham (H) Southampton (A) Man City (H) Burnley (H) Swansea (A) Man United (H) 4
West Ham Southampton (A) Tottenham (A) Palace (H) Chelsea (H) Arsenal (A) Sunderland (H) 4

While Arsenal only has one match against a fellow Top 8 team in the next six matches, a suddenly very-in-form Liverpool and West Ham have four matches against Top 8 teams, and the Soccer Chickens have three matches against Top 8 teams plus 9th-place Swansea (albeit with a relegation sorbet before and after its away tie at Old Trafford).

West Ham's run to a Champions League place likely hinges on its next two matches -- wins there are needed to keep them at least in the Europa League tier, as opposed to the mid-table territory led by a floundering Swansea and a Stoke team that must host City before going on a run of games against bottom half teams.

If West Ham falters in those next two matches, we can talk about a Top Seven rather than a Top Eight by month's end -- and with Liverpool facing Spurs and Saints in its next two matches, there's definitely a believable route to a real, discernible gap separating Man U and Arsenal from a Europa tier in which 'Pool, Spurs, and Saints battle for fifth.