LONDON: Liverpool are back in the Champions League and Arsenal are out – after more than 20 years – following a concluding Premier League matchday which saw just about every club ending up where they deserved.
The 37 goals scored equalled the best weekend of the season and Tottenham’s Harry Kane took the individual honours with his second hat-trick in four days and thus 29 for the season.
The two knife-edge matches were Liverpool’s 3-0 defeat of already-relegated Middlesbrough and Arsenal’s 3-1 defeat of Everton. At one stage, in the first half, Arsenal were leading despite the early expulsion of skipper Laurent Koscielny. That gave them the advantage over Liverpool. Then Giorgino Wijnaldum scored at Anfield on the stroke of half-time and that, in effect, was that.
Liverpool went on to win with further goals from Coutinho and Adam Lallana while Arsenal dropped into the Europa League despite goals from Hector Bellerin, unsettled Alexis Sanchez and Aaaron Ramsey. Inytriguingly Per Mertesacker was needed as a substitute for injured Gabriel and could well be playing again – to his own surprise probably – next Saturday in the FA Cup Final.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was a happy and relieved man. He said- “This is exceptionally good. It’s been a long season. I couldn’t have imagined this morning that it would be like this. I thought it could be tight to the end but the last 15 minutes were to enjoy.
“The team were outstanding, to have 76 points when injuries meant half the season it seemed we were without a lot of key players. We deserved this, to qualify for the Champions League. The boys delivered in a very decisive moment and that’s something we can build on.
“But we are Liverpool- we have to deliver. We have to improve. We will!”
As for Arsenal Wenger expects to remain as manager and to announce a decision after the FA Cup Final against Chelsea next Saturday. A couple of imponderables exist, however. One would be a heavy defeat at Wembley by the new champions, the other concerns the possible change of ownership.
American sports tycoon Stan Kroenke has rejected a $1.3bn bid from metals billionaire Alisher Usmanov who, with 30pc, is the club’s second-largest shareholder. However Usmanov may come back with an improved offer. Then Kroenke will have to weigh up, with his US franchises not so healthy, whether to exit Arsenal while the going is still financially good.
If Kroenke continues to refuse the president of the international fencing federation then he knows he will need to spend perhaps more than he would want on new players to restore Arsenal to Champions League status.
An irritation for Arsenal fans has been seeing Tottenham overtake them for the first time in 22 years to claim second place. Spurs, 7-1 winners at Hull with a Kane hat-trick, also need to spend on reinforcements to go to what manager Mauricio Pochettino defines as “the next level.”
They will also have to fight off interest in their best players. Attacking rightback Kyle Walker has fallen out with Pochettino and is probably off to Manchester City while exciting England youngster Dele Alli is on Real Madrid’s ‘watch list’.
The Champions League holders’ more immediate target, however, is Chelsea’s Eden Hazard. Not that Antonio Conte would want to sell, particularly with Willian heading for the Stamford Bridge exit in the wake of a 5-1 win over Sunderland which saw John Terry’s emotional farewell to Stamford Bridge.
Manchester City secured third place with an easy 5-0 win at Watford while United saw off Crystal Palace 2-0.
Leicester relinquished their grip on the championship trophy with a 1-1 home draw against Bournemouth. But at least they survived which was not at all certain until after the spring-time sacking of Claudio Ranieri.
Hull, Middlesbrough and Sunderland were relegated with Newcastle, Brighton and Reading or David Wagner’s Huddersfield taking their places.