Defeat for Wigan Athletic on Tuesday night ensured that there will be no last-day relegation drama in the Premier League, but victory for Arsenal means that there is a potentially thrilling finale in store to decide which sides will be lapping up the riches and prestige of the Champions League next season.
There is just one place left up for grabs and not for the first time in recent seasons, it will be decided between north London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham.
Currently fourth, a point ahead of fifth-placed Spurs, Arsenal know that a win away at Newcastle will see them qualify for the Champions League for an impressive 16th consecutive season. But any slipups and Tottenham will sneak into fourth spot if they can win at home to Sunderland.
There are further complications, though, with the possibility that Arsenal could yet earn third place ahead of Chelsea, which would mean avoiding a potentially tricky two-legged qualifier to earn a spot in the lucrative Champions League group phase.
Chelsea currently lie two points above the Gunners ahead of their home meeting with Everton on the final day. With just one goal separating them in the goal difference column and two in the number of goals scored there is also the possibility that there could yet be a playoff to decide third place. A draw for Chelsea, coupled with Arsenal scoring two more goals than the Blues and winning by a single-goal margin would bring about such an outcome.
With so many perpetrations and so much on the line, here’s a look at how the three matches might play out.
Newcastle Vs. Arsenal Arsenal’s task appears to have been made considerably simpler at St. James’ Park by the fact that Newcastle ensured their Premier League survival with victory over QPR last weekend. Manager Alan Pardew has since explained that he was joking when he said he wouldn’t care if Newcastle lost 4-0 on the final day but it is hard not to think that there will be reduced intensity in his players.
Arsenal have flourished against weaker sides in the Premier League this season, especially those who leave gaps defensively. The Gunners did exactly that when they beat Newcastle 7-3 earlier in the season and, as the recent 6-0 defeat to Liverpool showed, the Magpies’ defense has hardly shored up since.
If this was a mid-season game, it would be hard to look past a comfortable Arsenal win, but, such are the pressures involved, that there may well be some nervy moments. Still, Arsenal should get the win they need.
Newcastle 1-3 Arsenal
Tottenham Vs. Sunderland For several weeks, Tottenham have been doing just enough, often helped by the heroics of Gareth Bale, to stay firmly in the running for a top four spot. If they had have signed a top class striker in January their fate may well, at least, be in their own hands, but fortunately Emmanuel Adebayor appears to have found some form for the first time this season in the closing weeks.
Like Newcastle, Sunderland’s Premier League future is now secured, but fiery manager Paulo di Canio is unlikely to allow his players to take the day off. Still, Tottenham, should again come out on top by the odd goal, but it may well be in vain.
Tottenham 2-1 Sunderland
Chelsea Vs. Everton Although Chelsea played an intense Europa League final in Amsterdam in midweek, they will have an extra day to prepare than is customary throughout the competition. While Everton will have nothing materially to play for, they will want to end manager David Moyes’s 11-year reign on a high. Yet, their record at Stamford Bridge is a poor one and they have not won there in 19 years.
Everton also have a generally poor record travelling away to the big teams in the Premier League, where Moyes can often be negative in his approach. It should be a closely-fought affair, but Chelsea may just get the win they need to secure third spot.
Chelsea 1-0 Everton