In the end it was all so easy and so un-Liverpool-esque. Requiring just a point at home to Brighton to clinch a top four finish, Reds supporters still couldn’t help but fear that perhaps it could all go wrong, given how a 10-point lead over Chelsea a month ago had been whittled down to two. The final score of 4-0 suggested that this was a one-sided afternoon at Anfield and that was indeed the case. The positives for Liverpool were plentiful – another goal for Mohamed Salah to see him win the Golden Boot and set a Premier League record for the most goals in a 38-game season, a first goal in red for Dominic Solanke after a season of much frustration for the youngster, rare strikes also for Dejan Lovren and Andrew Robertson, a cameo off the bench for Adam Lallana and the completion of an unbeaten league season at home. This was about as perfect as it gets for Liverpool and they can now head for Kiev in high spirits.
Indeed, even had it gone wrong for the Reds at Anfield, they would still have claimed fourth place after Chelsea crashed to a 3-0 defeat at Newcastle, making it four times in the last five seasons that the Premier League title holders failed to finish in the top four. The Blues seemed to have accepted after the midweek disappointment against Huddersfield that a Champions League berth was beyond them and they gave a listless performance at St James’ Park, with the Geordies only too happy to capitalise. After Dwight Gayle opened the scoring, Ayoze Perez netted twice in the second half as Rafael Benitez’s men ended the season in 10th, a more than satisfactory return a year after promotion. Chelsea now need victory in the FA Cup final to prevent this season from being an unmitigated disaster, although Arsenal finished fifth last year and went on to lift the cup at Wembley.
Speaking of Wembley, its last Premier League game for the time being was a nine-goal barnstormer that saw Tottenham edge out Leicester to secure third place in the table. Harry Kane scored twice to take his final tally for the season to 30 league goals, a formidable return but not enough to usurp Salah for the Golden Boot. Jamie Vardy and Erik Lamela also scored twice in a match that Leicester led twice, with a 3-1 lead at one stage, although the pick of the goals went to Kelechi Iheanacho with his powerful strike early in the second half. Spurs’ victory was perhaps the only minor blemish on Liverpool’s day, as a draw or defeat for the Londoners would have enabled Jurgen Klopp’s men to end the season in third.
It has been the most talked-about Twitter hashtag in football history and now #WengerOut has come to pass. Arsene’s 22-year association with Arsenal ended with something of an anti-climax, even if a 1-0 victory at Huddersfield at least allowed him to sign off on a high note. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has the honour of scoring the final goal of Wenger’s momentous reign at Arsenal and, in a statistic that will be forgotten long before the departing manager’s legacy ever is, he secured the Gunners’ first away points in the league in 2018. The travelling supporters went home happy that Wenger was given a winning send-off, while the Huddersfield faithful were in a mood for celebration after their fine achievement of securing another season of Premier League football.
Six years to the day that Sergio Aguero’s 93rd-minute goal won Manchester City their first Premier League title, another last-gasp strike prompted jubilant scenes on the City bench on Sunday. Gabriel Jesus’ winner at Southampton had no bearing on the overall context of the season, but it did ensure that Pep Guardiola’s formidable champions ended the campaign with 100 points, a feat that is not likely to be repeated soon. It was the second time this season that City beat the Saints with a stoppage time goal, following Raheem Sterling’s winner at the Etihad in November, but this one was shrugged off by Southampton supporters who contented themselves with booking a seventh consecutive season in the Premier League, even if a finishing position of 17th was their worst since getting back into the top flight in 2012.
Swansea needed an unfathomable miracle to climb out of the relegation places; instead, they ended a bitterly disappointing season winless in nine games and losing 1-2 at home to a Stoke team they will face again in next term’s Championship. Even when Andy King put the Swans ahead on 14 minutes, there was nothing more than a ripple of appreciative applause. The home side couldn’t even get to half-time in front, with Badou Ndiaye and Peter Crouch turning the game on its head. Stoke managed to secure just a second victory under Paul Lambert and avoid finishing bottom of the table, but this game was the full stop on a dreadful campaign for two clubs who not so long ago were lauded as bastions of Premier League stability.
It seems a little harsh on West Brom that they ended up bottom after putting in such a courageous effort for survival under Darren Moore, but that is truthfully a reflection on how dismally they had performed before the caretaker manager was put in charge. The Baggies dropped to 20th after losing 2-0 at Crystal Palace, who went from pointless in mid-October to 11th by the season’s end. Wilfried Zaha and Patrick van Aanholt got the goals that clinched victory for the Eagles, who have been massively resurrected under Roy Hodgson. He deserves enormous credit for getting Palace out of such a massive rut to finish so comfortably, while Moore deserves a proper chance at getting West Brom back into the top flight.
Just as they did a year ago, Manchester United concluded their Premier League season with a nondescript home win ahead of a cup final. The runners-up defeated Watford 1-0 at Old Trafford courtesy of a Marcus Rashford goal, the young striker raising his hand for inclusion for the starting XI at Wembley next Saturday and maybe sticking a metaphorical two fingers up at Jose Mourinho for the fierce criticism that the manager has thrown his way. The day belonged to Michael Carrick, who made his final United appearance after 12 successful seasons at the club. He moves on to a coaching role at Old Trafford while Watford, in all probability, move on to another manager during the summer. Javi Gracia looks set to be a fleeting memory in the Hornets’ history.
Premier League clubs don’t come much more ‘unfashionable’ than Burnley and Bournemouth, yet Sunday’s meeting at Turf Moor was that of two teams who will take more pleasure than most from 2017/18. Chris Wood had given the home side a first half lead before Joshua King equalised and Callum Wilson struck a stoppage time winner for the Cherries. Eddie Howe has yet again led a team greater than the sum of its parts to a superb mid-table finish, while Burnley fans can spend the summer on Wikipedia finding out about some of the unfamiliar-sounding teams they could face in the Europa League qualifiers.
Neither West Ham nor Everton will remember this season with any great fondness, although the Hammers got to end it on a positive note after beating the Toffees 3-1 at London Stadium. Manuel Lanzini scored twice for David Moyes’ side, with Marko Arnautovic also on target, while Oumar Niasse registered for the visitors. West Ham might have been aiming higher than 13th at the outset of the season, but their situation had looked a lot worse just a few weeks ago, while Everton’s finishing position of eighth is not bad on the face of it. However, there’s unlikely to be a feel-good vibe in the Toffees’ ranks so long as Sam Allardyce is in charge.
Liverpool met their pre-season objective of a top four finish and while fourth is not an improvement on last season’s final placing, there is a greater sense of satisfaction to this one as it was achieved in tandem with a scintillating journey to the Champions League final, whereas the Reds had no European football in 2016/17. It has been quite a good season for Klopp’s men. By the conclusion of 26th May, that could become a glorious, momentous one. Onwards to Kiev!