5 Reasons the Final Day of the Premier League Season Is Must-Watch TV
The title race is a distant memory. All three relegation spots are settled. And yet, the final day of the English Premier League season still has plenty to offer in terms of intrigue.
All 20 Premiership clubs will kick off simultaneously on Sunday, and when they do, we'll be keeping our eye on several storylines. For one thing, Sunday is the last time we'll see a legendary manager along the touchline. For another, his replacement will be on full display elsewhere.
And then there's the business of the top four and Champions League qualification—and maybe, just maybe, even a one-match playoff.
Keep reading to find out what we're looking forward to watching on the final day of the Premier League season.
Takin' Care of Business
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It's that magical time of year again. Theo Walcott is dancing up and down touchlines, Santi Claus is coming to town and Arsenal are out searching for Arsene Wenger's version of silverware.
Yeah, that's a cheap shot directed at Arsene Wenger, but the man actually deserves a bit of credit this season. After selling captain, best player and silver fox Robin van Persie to Manchester United last summer, Wenger has his team right back in contention for a top-four finish and yet another season of Champions League football.
Go crazy, Gooners.
All Arsenal need is a win over Newcastle at Newcastle on Sunday and fourth place (maybe even third, but more on that momentarily) will belong to them. Newcastle, it should be noted, have nothing to play for after recently securing their Premiership status, and manager Alan Pardew has been saying silly things (per Goal.com) about losing to Arsenal (but, honestly, it was all a joke!)
Arsenal should win, if only because of the motivation factor, but any truth-telling Gooner would admit to some level of nervousness. The squad, despite the proximity of that fourth-place trophy, needs strengthening, and finishing in the top four is vital to reaping financial rewards brought by Champions League qualification. In fact, reports out of Spain indicate Gonzalo Higuain could be on his way to North London if the Gunners qualify (via Daily Mirror).
Speaking of Spain, a pint-sized Spaniard figures to once again be a key figure this weekend. Besides appearing in impossibly adorable photos like the one you see at left, Santi Cazorla on Tuesday provided all four assists as Arsenal defeated Wigan, 4-1, at the Emirates Stadium to regain fourth place. It was an appropriate end to the home campaign for Arsenal and Cazorla, who has often been his club's best player this season.
That last part is debatable, of course. What's undeniable is that when Cazorla is playing well, so are Arsenal. Just consider him, as others already have, Arsenal's gift-giving Santi Claus.
His greatest gift yet would be another season in the Champions League.
Hope Is a Good Thing
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The reason Arsenal must win on Sunday resides just down the Seven Sisters Road at White Hart Lane. Tottenham Hotspur, bitter rivals and for so many years second best to their North London neighbors, sit just one point behind in the table.
Spurs host Sunderland on the final day, and with the Black Cats safe from relegation, Tottenham should have—much like Arsenal against Newcastle—an advantage in motivation. That said, Spurs have made a habit out of heart-attack finishes in recent weeks, so a straightforward win is far from assured.
Last weekend, Andre Villas-Boas' team fell behind to Stoke in the third minute, only to tie the match in the first half and win it in the 83rd. Before that, Spurs trailed Chelsea in the second half but secured a draw thanks to a Gylfi Sigurdsson goal 10 minutes from time.
And before that, Gareth Bale hit an 86th-minute winner at home to Southampton. And before that, an 89th-minute own goal was needed to draw with Wigan.
Bale, by the way, hasn't scored in either of Spurs' last two matches, which makes that whole notion of Tottenham being a one-man team a little less viable. However, if he scores a late winner that sends Spurs into the Champions League this weekend, nobody will care about that.
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Chelsea's role in this top-four drama is mostly minor, but still somewhat significant. Two points ahead of Arsenal and three beyond Spurs (with a vastly superior goal differential compared to the latter), Chelsea need only a win to clinch third place—and an automatic spot in next season's Champions League group stage.
Finishing fourth would mean a qualifying tie early next season, a scenario best avoided. But that isn't even the most unlikely scenario Chelsea could find themselves facing.
If the Blues draw, 0-0, with Everton on Sunday and Arsenal beats Newcastle, 2-1 (or 1-1 and 3-2, or 2-2 and 4-3, and so on), the teams would finish with identical records, goal differentials, goals-scored and goals-conceded records. In other words, tiebreaking would be impossible (the Premier League does not count head-to-head, which would favor Chelsea).
That would result in a one-match playoff to decide third place, a match neither team would likely fancy. It's an absurd scenario (in the words of Jim Mora: "Playoffs? Playoffs?"), but it's entirely possible.
Goodbye, Sir Alex
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Sir Alex Ferguson is a legend, an icon and, as Brian Phillips writes in a brilliant piece for Grantland, an endlessly interesting character full of compelling contradictions.
He has managed Manchester United to 13 Premier League titles in an absurdly successful 26-plus-year reign, and Sunday's trip to West Bromwich Albion will be his last match. Ever.
Goodbye, Sir Alex. There will never be another manager like you.
Hello, David Moyes
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David Moyes, for the past 11 years the manager of Everton, will succeed Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United (via BBC Sport). In those 11 years, Moyes has built the Toffees into regular top-half finishers on a budget that would make noted spendthrift Arsene Wenger chuckle uneasily.
But he has never won a trophy, and when he takes over at Manchester United, he will immediately face heavy expectations to do so.
Want to take a sneak peek at United's next manager? Moyes will be managing Everton for the final time on Sunday at Chelsea.