For the majority, there were three games left to play before the weekend’s action with still plenty to decide for those teams struggling at the bottom of the table.
West Brom, Stoke, Southampton, Brighton and Huddersfield were treading water, but Chris Hughton has taken the Seagulls to the all-important 40-point mark. David Wagner’s draw at the Etihad was a crucial point, while Stoke were the first team to be relegated (somehow before West Brom).
Here are five talking points from the action:
Manchester United are far too inconsistent
Another loss to a newly-promoted team, this time a 1-0 loss to Brighton, has caused mockery on Manchester United’s season once again. While it looks as if the Red Devils are set to finish in second, it has been a very mixed domestic season given who they have dropped points to this year.
If José Mourinho is to challenge Manchester City’s authority and dominance over the league, then there has to be a massive improvement in the consistency of the team. At too many times this season has the Portuguese boss relied on individual brilliance, rather than team cohesion, to win games and claim the three points.
Mourinho simply has to find a way to beat teams he should be swatting away just like City have done this year. There are no excuses to be made, especially when they have shown their prowess in the bigger matches against the top six. It’s time for United to replicate those performances week in, week out.
The top four still hangs in the balance
With Tottenham and Liverpool losing, there might well be a last chance saloon for Chelsea who are now two points off Mauricio Pochettino’s team and three from the Reds with a game-in-hand.
Antonio Conte and his players have had a turbulent season, with the Italian manager set to leave at the end of the season, but he may well have a chance for redemption this year and finish in a Champions League-qualifying position.
Two games, against Huddersfield and Newcastle, are must-wins for Chelsea. As it is currently out of their hands, they will be banking on Spurs or Liverpool dropping points in order to leapfrog them.
For both Pochettino and Klopp, it would be an embarrassment not to cross the line and end the season where they are, given how poor and inconsistent the Blues have been.
The top four race looked all but over, but it is now set to go right down to the wire on the final day if Chelsea can beat Huddersfield during the week. Such is the Premier League, an unexpected turn is just around the corner.
West Brom Fight Another day
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it was clear to the majority that appointing Alan Pardew to succeed Tony Pulis at West Brom was a disaster waiting to happen. Wind forward 19 games and the Baggies were bottom of the table on the back of eight successive Premier League defeats.
Having won one game in 18 in the league, it was, quite clearly, the right decision to part ways with Pardew after some dubious decisions made and his inability to inspire his players to fight their way out of their dire situation.
Darren Moore, one of the backroom staff members, stepped in to take over from Pardew and has, so far, won against Manchester United and Tottenham, while also picking up an important point against Jürgen Klopp’s men at the Hawthorns.
The former player has picked up a mightily impressive 11/15 points against some top teams in the division, which begs the question of why he was not introduced earlier on in the season. Of course, it can be difficult to take the chance on an unknown entity, but West Brom’s major mistake was allowing Pardew to carry on thinking the situation was going to change.
However, with one game for the Baggies left to play, there is somewhat of a chance of the club remaining in the league. Although it looks incredibly unlikely, Moore’s reputation will have risen drastically and the Englishman should be given the chance to guide them in the Championship next year. Whether or not he accepts it is another story.
Chris Hughton deserves his plaudits
When Brighton were promoted to the Premier League last season, not many backed them for life in England’s first division. They were not blessed with riches and had a very UK-focussed recruitment structure in play.
However, partly thanks to Hughton’s fantastic managerial nous, the Seagulls will enjoy life in the Premier League once again next season and can build on what has been a successful campaign.
As shown by other teams who have been promoted, the longer you remain in the league, the more money you have at your disposal to recruit new players with. However, where some – such as Southampton and Stoke – have gone wrong, is the lack of clever recruitment. Of course, clubs want quality, but sometimes it is about the right fit for the team and philosophy.
Brighton signed Pascal Gross from FC Ingolstadt when arriving from the Championship for £2.5 million. A player from Bundesliga II who nobody had really heard of will end the season with at least seven goals and eight assists in the Premier League. A fantastic return from a player who is completely new to English football. He has been one of Hughton’s most important men.
Hughton might not be a manager that everyone raves about, but he goes under the radar and that’s exactly how he’ll like it. He has done a mesmerising job for Brighton in recent years and will look to go from strength to strength.
Au revoir, Arsène
And there it was. Arsène Wenger’s last home game at the Emirates as Arsenal boss ended in a 5-0 thumping against Burnley. It wasn’t about the result, at the end of the day, but the celebration of a manger that gave his all for a club adored by millions across the world.
Wenger changed how British football was played in the mid-to-late 90s and went on to win a vast amount of silverware. He might have lost his touch since the move from Highbury to the Emirates, and limited funds haven’t helped, but fans should fondly remember what he gave the club they love.
It will be an emotional final day for Wenger in charge of Arsenal when they take on Huddersfield next Sunday. The Frenchman is truly the last manager to take to the dugout who has built a dynasty at a club around Europe.
The managerial landscape has changed with everything being viewed in the short term, but Wenger and Arsenal should receive great praise for building something not only truly special, but also something that will be remembered for lifetimes.
Good luck to Mr Wenger for his next pursuit and, from every fan, thank you for contributing to English football in the way that you did.
Also published on Medium.