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Arsenal next in sight for Gareth Bale

AP
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Last two Champions League spots will be keenly contested

Player of the year?Fans, opposing managers and even teammates have been left in awe of Bale, who is the favourite to be named the 2013 Player of the Year by his Premier League peers later this year.Photos: reuters
Player of the year?Fans, opposing managers and even teammates have been left in awe of Bale, who is the favourite to be named the 2013 Player of the Year by his Premier League peers later this year.Photos: reuters

Stopping Tottenham winger Gareth Bale has proved beyond most Premier League defences this season, so there’s little hope Arsenal’s suspect back four will be up to the job in Sunday’s crucial north London derby.

By scoring eight goals in his past six matches, Bale is inviting comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi as he almost single-handedly looks to lead third-place Tottenham into the Champions League next season.

Next in his sights is Arsenal, which is currently just outside the top four and facing a real fight to qualify for Europe’s top competition for the 16th straight season.

Arsenal has managed to stay in contention for the Champions League positions despite being in the midst of one of its worst seasons in manager Arsene Wenger’s 17-year reign. Provided the team fails to turn around a 3-1 first-leg deficit in its Champions League last-16 match at Bayern Munich, Arsenal will have gone eight years without silverware.

Under pressure

Its creaky defence has been under particular scrutiny, with captain Thomas Vermaelen’s form having dipped and fellow centre backs Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny failing to impress.

With France right back Bacary Sagna ruled out by Wenger on Thursday because of a knee injury, Bale has a great chance at White Hart Lane to improve on his 19 goals already this season – 15 of which have come in the league.

With Manchester United having surged into a 12-point lead and Manchester City five points clear of the chasing pack in second and showing improved form, the fight for the remaining two Champions League spots behind them is gathering more and more interest.

All eyes on Benitez

Chelsea is currently splitting the north London clubs in fourth place and there will particular focus on its home match against West Bromwich Albion in the wake of coach Rafa Benitez’s outburst at the club’s fans and board, following the FA Cup win at Middlesbrough on Wednesday.

United is at home to Norwich on Saturday and manager Alex Ferguson must decide whether to play top scorer Robin van Persie.

Man City looks to be back its best form and travels on Monday to an Aston Villa side that is third from bottom.AP

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