Premier League review

Arsenal pip rivals Spurs to UCL spot

May 19, 2013
By ESPN staff

Arsenal - not Tottenham - will be North London's representatives in next season's Champions League after they came out on top of a dramatic final day shootout for fourth spot in the Premier League. However, there will be no play-off against Chelsea for third place after Rafael Benitez's side secured automatic qualification for Europe's premier competition, while Sir Alex Ferguson's final game in charge of Manchester United produced ten goals.

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It was the ultimate must-win scenario for Arsenal, who headed to St James' Park to face Newcastle knowing any slip-up not only would likely cost them Champions League football, but also hand it to their fiercest rivals. Leading the race for fourth spot by a solitary point from Tottenham at kick-off, the Gunners simply had to keep their fate in their own hands, and a second-half goal from Laurent Koscielny secured a crucial 1-0 victory.

Arsene Wenger took a risk on Mikel Arteta's fitness in his starting XI but the gamble failed to pay off as the Spaniard lasted less than half an hour. The Gunners, surprisingly lacklustre for 45 minutes, had to wait until a minute into the second half for their first clear opening, Steve Harper clearing straight to Aaron Ramsey who played in Theo Walcott, only for the keeper to make amends low down to his right.

Arsenal didn't have to wait much longer for their breakthrough though, Koscielny volleying home on the spin from Walcott's right-wing free-kick in the 52nd minute. The centre-back was immense all afternoon alongside Per Mertesacker, and he needed to be as Walcott missed a late sitter to leave the Gunners to see out a nervy finale.

Crestfallen Tottenham went into their home clash with Sunderland knowing they needed an almighty favour from Newcastle, but they didn't get it as a 1-0 win at White Hart Lane was rendered insignificant. Andre Villas-Boas' side, for the second season running, suffered the agony of narrowly missing out on Champions League football, despite Gareth Bale's late wonder strike.

The likes of Bale and Co will now be left to contemplate another campaign in the Europa League, raising question marks over whether Spurs can hold on to their star player.

It was Bale who was involved in the first major moment at The Lane, falling under the challenge of Sebastian Larsson for what looked like a penalty, only to receive a harsh booking for simulation. It summed up a frustrating half in which Villas-Boas' men never found anything close to full gear. Hugo Lloris needed to be at his best to deny Danny Graham five minutes into the second half, but his effort was then bettered by Carlos Cuellar who somehow got away with a diving handball to block Emmanuel Adebayor's shot inside the box. It just wasn't Spurs' day as Jack Colback then cleared off the line twice in as many seconds, and even though Bale curled home a 25-yard beauty after David Vaughan was dismissed, it wasn't enough.

In the event of Arsenal's victory, there was the possibility that a specific set results could see them facing a play-off with Chelsea for third - a shootout for automatic Champions League qualification - if the Blues drew with Everton.

However, that scenario failed to play out as Chelsea won 2-1 at Stamford Bridge against David Moyes' Everton. In Benitez's last game in charge, strikes from Juan Mata and Fernando Torres assured the Blues of third spot, meaning Arsenal will have to go through Champions League qualifying at the start of next season.

Arsene Wenger and the Arsenal bench celebrate at full-time after booking a place in the Champions League
GettyImagesArsene Wenger and the Arsenal bench celebrate at full-time after booking a place in the Champions League

It took Mata seven minutes to get off the mark, capitalising on Tim Howard's fumble to poke home, but Steven Naismith quickly levelled after poor defending from David Luiz. Everton then hit the woodwork twice in as many seconds in an entertaining encounter, but Torres struck late on to deny Moyes a point in his last game in charge.

On a day of emotional exits, which saw Paul Scholes, Jamie Carragher and Michael Owen all say farewell after exceptional careers, the biggest departure was that of Ferguson - arguably the greatest ever British manager - who signed off from his glittering Manchester United career with a ten-goal thriller against West Brom.

Ferguson's last game in charge of United - his 1,500th in all competitions - ended in a 5-5 draw at the Hawthorns with Shinji Kagawa, Alexander Buttner, Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez plus a Jonas Olsson own goal on the scoresheet for United. The result stopped United moving past the 90-point mark but it seemed a fitting way for Ferguson to go out as goals flew in all afternoon.

The day was slightly tainted by ongoing speculation over the future of wantaway star Wayne Rooney - who missed what might prove to be his final game as a United player to attend the birth of his child. Kagawa, the man who has at times been preferred to Rooney this season, opened the scoring with a header in the sixth minute, before Olsson's unfortunate contribution quickly doubled the advantage. Buttner then added a third prior to half-time when drilling home after a wonderful move.

However, James Morrison cut that deficit on the stroke of the interval and then Romelu Lukaku made it 3-2 in the 50th minute as the Baggies mounted a comeback. The rally appeared to have been ended by Van Persie and Hernandez, but Lukaku and Youssouf Mulumbu set up a thrilling finish before Lukaku completed his hat-trick to spoil Ferguson's send-off. Like Scholes, another player to hang up his boots on Sunday was Carragher, who made his 737th and final appearance for Liverpool in their 1-0 win over bottom club QPR at Anfield. Carragher stands second only to Ian Callaghan in the Reds' all-time appearances list, and he was given a guard of honour to mark what has been a remarkable one-club career.

On the pitch Brendan Rodgers finished the campaign in winning style, Philippe Coutinho turning in another star role as he contributed the winner midway through the opening half from 25 yards.

Fernando Torres fires home his winner for Chelsea against Everton which guaranteed third place in the Premier League
GettyImagesFernando Torres fires home his winner for Chelsea against Everton which guaranteed third place in the Premier League

Carragher's good friend Owen, another to be leaving football to pursue TV opportunities next term, signed off with a 1-1 draw as Stoke held Southampton. The result, which saw both Peter Crouch and Rickie Lambert on the scoresheet, sees Stoke finish 13th while Saints end their campaign a place below.

Manchester City failed made it back-to-back wins in the aftermath of Roberto Mancini's reign as they were shocked by Norwich 3-2 at the Etihad Stadium. Goals from Anthony Pikington, Grant Holt and Jonny Howson eclipsed Jack Rodwell's brace, leaving some unsteady foundations on which for a new manager - expected to be Manuel Pellegrini - to build during the summer.

It was the Canaries who surprisingly opened the scoring, Pilkington taking advantage of a series of poor challenges, but Rodwell instantly replied after a flowing move involving Edin Dzeko. Norwich then led again when Holt converted Robert Snodgrass' cross, but Rodwell equalised for a second time with a stunning solo effort, only to see Howson win it for the visitors who finish 11th.

Relegated FA Cup winners Wigan signed off from the Premier League with a 2-2 draw against Aston Villa, meaning they ultimately missed out on safety by three points. Emmerson Boyce's goal cancelled out Darren Bent's effort at the DW Stadium before Nathan Baker's own goal handed the Latics the lead, only for Ron Vlaar to equalise to leave Villa to settle for an 15th-placed finish.

Elsewhere, Fulham beat Swansea 3-0 thanks to goals from Alex Kacaniklic, Dimitar Berbatov and Urby Emanuelson, leaving the Cottagers to close a poor end to the season in 12th while Swansea finished ninth.

And West Ham were able to celebrate a top-half finish as they won 4-2 against already-relegated Reading. Garath McCleary and Adam Le Fondre scored in the space of three second-half minutes to cancel out strikes from Kevin Nolan and Ricardo Vaz Te, but Nolan netted two more for his hat-trick to decide the game.

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