For the third weekend in a row, Liverpool squandered the opportunity to effectively clinch a top four finish after losing to Chelsea on Sunday when a point would have all but done the job. Olivier Giroud’s first half header was enough for a fourth straight one-goal league win for the Blues, who are now within striking distance of the two teams above them as their late surge for Champions League football continues. Liverpool weren’t particularly poor at Stamford Bridge, but lacked the zip and zest that served them so well earlier in the season, perhaps unsurprising after the effort involved in getting past Roma last week. More worrying was a limping James Milner and another uncharacteristically subdued game for Mohamed Salah, who remains stuck on 31 goals and now has only one more chance to set a Premier League scoring record for a 38-game season.
A decade after entering the Premier League, Stoke’s top flight sojourn has come to an end following Saturday’s defeat at home to Crystal Palace. The Potters knew they needed a first win in 13 games to maintain their slim hopes of survival and they seemed to be on course thanks to Xherdan Shaqiri’s sweetly-struck free kick just before half-time. However, just as they’ve done in recent games, they failed to hold on after scoring the first goal and were pegged back midway through the second half when James McArthur equalised. Their fate was sealed in the final five minutes after Ryan Shawcross’ valiant attempt at an interception served only to lay the ball on a plate for Patrick van Aanholt to consign Stoke to the defeat that condemned them to relegation.
Some way, somehow, West Brom are still raging against the dying of the light after a dramatic victory over Tottenham on Saturday. Knowing that they had to win to take their survival prospects any further, the Baggies played with admirable freedom and courage, despite Darren Moore’s perplexing substitutions that saw him withdraw two strikers and James McClean. Illogical as they seemed, they were ultimately justified as, in stoppage time, Jake Livermore pounced in the six-yard box to net a winning goal that took them off the bottom of the table and made it 11 points from five games under Moore, having gained just 20 in 32 matches prior to Alan Pardew’s sacking a month ago. They are still unlikely to escape the drop, but what a fight they are making of it. Spurs, on the other hand, were flat and have Chelsea rightly breathing down their necks.
If Southampton didn’t have bad luck, they’d have no luck at all. How else would you explain the 96th-minute goal that denied them a priceless and what would have been a deserved victory over lacklustre Everton on Saturday? Winning 1-0 thanks to Nathan Redmond’s goal early in the second half, the same player was harshly adjudged to have committed a foul deep in Everton territory in the sixth minute of stoppage time when the Toffees launched a free kick 10 yards ahead of where the incident occurred, worked the ball downfield and Tom Davies’ eventual strike took a wicked deflection off Wesley Hoedt on its way to the net. This was all after the officials indicated four minutes of added time, leaving Saints boss Mark Hughes incandescent with rage and with good reason. Southampton still know that victory over Swansea on Tuesday effectively secures safety, but they would be a lot more comfortable had it not been for that cruel, controversial last-gasp goal.
Swansea’s worrying malaise continued on Saturday as they fell to a 1-0 defeat away to Bournemouth, a result that dropped the Welsh side into the relegation zone on goal difference following Southampton’s draw later that evening. A mostly dull affair was settled late in the first half from a cleverly-worked free kick which saw Charlie Daniels pass to the unmarked Ryan Fraser, whose shot beat Lukasz Fabianski in the Swansea goal. If the visiting supporters were expecting a second half onslaught in an attempt to salvage something from the game, it did not materialise, the Swans sorely lacking up front as even the in-form Jordan Ayew misfired. They now take on Southampton knowing that they need a win against their relegation rivals to have their fate in their own hands on the final day.
Huddersfield seemed to be on their way to doom after losing to Everton last week, but they ruined accumulators everywhere on Sunday by holding Manchester City to a goalless draw at the Etihad. They weren’t afraid to have a go at the champions in the first half, David Wagner clearly aware of how such a policy served Liverpool so well in the Champions League last month, but they did have to man the barricades after half-time as City pressed for a goal. Remarkably, the Terriers became just the second team in the league to hold Pep Guardiola’s men scoreless and only the third to take points at the Etihad, which was nonetheless rocking as the champions were presented with the trophy they had won three weeks ago. If there is a winner in the Swansea-Southampton clash, Huddersfield will then need only one more point to book a second season of Premier League football.
The Emirates has been a mutinous stadium on several occasions during a troubled season for Arsenal, but celebration and appreciation was the order of the day on Sunday for Arsene Wenger’s final match at the venue. The dream script was a handsome victory for the Gunners on their manager’s send-off and that’s exactly what transpired, with five goals stuck past Burnley without reply. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang helped himself to two of those, with Alexandre Lacazette, Sead Kolasinac and Alex Iwobi also getting in on the fun. The Clarets can still be delighted with their season despite this mauling, but the day was all about Wenger and the air of antipathy towards him which has been a staple of recent years gave way to a feel-good mood of gratitude towards a manager who has given his successor an incredibly tough act to follow.
Brighton are free of any fears of the drop following their superb and richly deserved victory over Manchester United on Friday night. The visitors had the ball in the Brighton net inside two minutes, only for Marouane Fellaini to be correctly deemed offside. After that early scare, the Seagulls were on top throughout, with United giving one of their worst displays of the season as their big names misfired. On 57 minutes, Pascal Gross’ header forced a scrambled clearance from Chris Smalling, but not before it had crossed the goal-line, the goal awarded after the requisite technology confirmed its legitimacy. Brighton were pressed into frenetic rearguard action in the final few minutes, but they kept their nerve to see out a momentous victory that sparked wild celebrations at the Amex Stadium. Jose Mourinho, on the other hand, laid into his players afterwards, with some of them now highly unlikely to start in the FA Cup final.
West Ham are also over the safety line following Saturday’s 2-0 win away to a Leicester side who downed tools a couple of weeks ago. Marko Arnautovic can be a head-wrecking figure at times, but when he’s in the mood, he’s nearly unplayable and he tormented the Foxes all afternoon. It was his dogged determination that allowed him to beat Austrian colleague Christian Fuchs to the ball and set up Joao Mario for the Hammers’ opening goal. The points were secured in the second half thanks to a sumptuous first-time strike from Mark Noble, the man who has kept his class all the way throughout a testing campaign for the Londoners. With Swansea and Southampton playing each other on Tuesday, the Hammers cannot now be dragged into the bottom three, so they can enjoy their meeting with Manchester United later in the week knowing that they will meet such illustrious opposition again next term.
Newcastle had already achieved what they wanted out of the season, although Saturday’s defeat at Watford was their third in a row and they are finishing a fine campaign on a bit of a whimper. The Hornets were effectively safe and they made sure of their top flight status for another year with the points at Vicarage Road, a second-minute goal from Roberto Pereyra setting them on their way. Andre Gray doubled the lead with only his fifth goal of the season and it should have been even worse for Newcastle at half-time, only for Troy Deeney to fluff his lines from the penalty spot. Ayoze Perez kept up his recent good form in front of goal to pull one back for the Geordies early in the second half, but they couldn’t find an equaliser and are now level on 41 points with Watford, who completed a double over Rafael Benitez’s side this season.
In a role reversal from previous weeks, Liverpool have the midweek off while their top four rivals are pressed into action. The flip side, though, is that those games for Tottenham and Chelsea give them the chance to leapfrog and go level respectively with the Reds, who will probably have to beat Brighton next Sunday to ensure a top four finish that ought to have been put to bed at West Brom two weeks ago when they had that 2-0 lead going into the final 10 minutes, only to toss it away in time-honoured kamikaze Liverpool fashion. How costly could the Reds’ faltering run-in yet prove?