71, 67, 60, 61, 67, 68, 76, 72, 70, 68, 69, 73, 79
These are not just a randomised assortment of numbers. They are the points totals of the teams finishing fourth in the Premier League since it assured Champions League qualification back in 2002.
Between 2002 and 2007, on average the team finishing fourth, be it one of Newcastle United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Everton or Arsenal, needed 66 points. Since 2007 that average total has jumped to 72, and has seen the record points total for fourth broken twice, whilst for the past two seasons the side finishing in fifth has broken the 70-point barrier—a Premier League first.
Back in August there was talk of renewed strength in the Premier League, that with Arsenal’s 79-point total for finishing fourth in 2013-14, the 80 point barrier for Champions League football may be broken. That with the gargantuan excess raining down from the coffers of Anfield, Old Trafford, the Emirates—and even Goodison Park—it would lead to a uniquely simultaneous race for the title and race for fourth. How fanciful that vision of a highly competitive chase for the top four, the artificial fruit of Sky Sports’ impact on English football, looks now.