Arsenal's draw with Everton yesterday put Chelsea into a pretty good position as far as finishing top 4 in the Premier League is concerned. Chelsea now have some breathing room over both of their realistic challengers due to their point total and the game(s) they have in hand.
So what exactly is it going to take to ensure that Chelsea finish above their rivals? We're going to use something common in most American sports here, the concept of a magic number. In Chelsea's case, the magic number to assure a top 4 finish is now a very attainable 18 points.
The tiebreaker between Arsenal and Chelsea is far to close to predict at this point, so guaranteeing a finish above the Gunners will mean that Chelsea will need to finish with more points. As it stands, Arsenal winning each of their 5 remaining fixtures would see them finishing on 75 points. Thus, 18 points from Chelsea (and 76 points) make us mathematically uncatchable*.
*That number could actually be dropped to 17 if we can build some breathing room based on goal differential. Arsenal are currently at +29 to our +28. Is another 8-0 too much to ask?
Tottenham are in a bit of a different situation. The gap in goal differential between ourselves and Spurs is pretty massive, certainly large enough that there's basically no chance Tottenham makes up the gap without Chelsea falling apart. Tottenham are on 58 points with 6 left to play, leaving them a maximum total of 76 points. When assuming that the tiebreaker belongs to the Blues, that again leaves Chelsea in a position where 18 points assures them a finish over Spurs.
All 18 of those points to assure Chelsea a top 4 finish don't need to be earned by Chelsea. Should both Spurs and Arsenal each win all of their remaining fixtures, Chelsea would need to take maximum points from 6 of 7 to earn a Champions League place. Every point that Arsenal or Spurs fail to earn during the run in reduces that magic number though, reducing Chelsea's magic number by the number of points they drop.
As an example, let's assume that Chelsea manage wins both tonight and Sunday over Liverpool. Let's also assume that Arsenal defeat Fulham on Saturday, with Spurs taking a loss at the hands of Manchester City. In our example, Chelsea have taken 6 additional points and dropped their magic number against both Spurs and Arsenal to just 12. Since Arsenal dropped no points in this hypothetical, it remains at 12 as far as they are concerned. Tottenham dropped 3 points in this example though, meaning we can knock 3 additional points off of our number, dropping it to just 9.
Obviously there is still plenty of work to be done before Chelsea can comfortably assume they'll be returning to the Champions League next season. That said, both Spurs and Arsenal should still drop some points. While Chelsea have the more difficult run-in, it's certainly not tough enough that 12 or more points would be unreasonable to expect.
If everything breaks Chelsea's way this week, we could more or less wrap up third place by the end of this weekend. One step at a time though, for now we need to take 3 points against Fulham.