18 May 2013

Thrills in store on last day of Premier League season

The 2012-13 Premier League season ends on Sunday, but there is still plenty to play for, with north London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham battling it out for a Champions League place.

On the final day of the Premier League season, there is still plenty to play for, with north London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham battling it out for a Champions League place (Reuters)

With Manchester United winning the league, Manchester City runners-up and Chelsea already guaranteed a top-four finish, it is more than bragging rights at stake for Gunners and Spurs fans on Sunday.

Tottenham, in fifth place, are one point below Arsenal. They face Sunderland at home, while Arsenal travel to Newcastle. Both teams will be looking to win, Tottenham anxious to avoid the heartache they suffered last season.

They finished fourth, but failed to win a Champions League place because Chelsea, in sixth place, won the competition that year and qualified automatically.

To make matters worse for them, arch-rivals Arsenal did manage to qualify for Europe’s top competition after coming third.

Arsenal resurgent

Not so long ago, it looked as though the Gunners could well miss out on a top-four finish for the first time in Arsene Wenger’s 16-year managerial reign, with Arsenal defeated in the north London derby in March and finding themselves seven points behind Spurs.

There was speculation about Wenger’s future at the club, but he has managed to silence his detractors with a run of good results that could see them finish third and qualify automatically for the Champions League group stage at Chelsea’s expense.

To add to the excitement, there will be a third place play-off between Arsenal and Chelsea if they are level on points and goal difference after their matches on Sunday. This will only happen if Arsenal win and Chelsea draw against Everton at Stamford Bridge.

On the final day of the Premier League season, there is still plenty to play for, with north London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham battling it out for a Champions League place (Getty)

Returning to the top of the table, few would disagree that the best team won, Man Utd reclaiming the mantle from “noisy neighbours” who never reached the heights they managed to climb in 2011-12.

The two teams accumulated the same number of points last season, but this time Man Utd forged ahead, masters of “winning games even when we’re not playing well”, as former Utd defender Gary Neville once put it.

Sir Alex Ferguson ended his 26-year tenure at the club on a high, in contrast to Man City manager Roberto Mancini, sacked after his team were deservedly beaten by Wigan in the FA Cup final.

Chelsea have made strides since their sixth-place finish in 2011-12. This time, they will end the season in third or fourth place, their confidence rightly buoyed by another European cup final victory, this time in the Europa League, to add to last year’s Champions League triumph.

Abusing Benitez

Despite the abuse thrown at manager Rafa Benitez by some Chelsea fans since he succeeded Roberto Di Matteo, he has delivered the goods. Chelsea now await the arrival of former saviour Jose Mourinho.

Everton finish above Liverpool (sixth) for the second season in a row, for the first time in over 50 years. Toffees fans can thumb their noses at their Merseyside rivals, but they will also be feeling nervous after losing their well-regarded manager, David Moyes, to Man Utd.

It has been a mixed season for Liverpool, with an impressive victory one week followed by defeat the next. Football writers have taken to describing them as inconsistent. But their season has been entirely consistent – one step forward, followed by one step back.

They finish seventh and it is strange to think that they managed second, just four points behind Man Utd, in 2008-09.

When he took over as manager, Brendan Rodgers identified a lack of goals as one of Liverpool’s main problems. Luis Suarez seemed to have fixed that, but his 10-match suspension after biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic could see him departing Anfield for foreign climes.

Newcastle finished fifth last season, above Chelsea, Everton and Liverpool. They are currently 13th, and were until recently being talked of as relegation contenders, along with Sunderland and Aston Villa.

Wigan’s distinction

After eight years in the Premier League, Wigan have succumbed to the seemingly inevitable and been relegated to the Championship. They now have the distinction of becoming the first team ever to win the FA Cup and face relegation in the same season.

Can they “do a Newcastle”, spending just a year in the Championship before bouncing back? Or are they destined to repeat what happened to Wolves, relegated from the Premier League at the end of last season and now relegated to League One?

Reading and QPR were relegated at the same time, after playing one another in a deadly dull 0-0 draw.

Rangers managed to cling on in 2011-12, but finished bottom this time after some performances that can only be described as chaotic. Even Harry Redknapp could not save them from themselves.