Soccer

Premier League: Arsenal Books Champions League Spot; Spurs Snake Bitten Again

Try as much he wanted, Gareth Bale’s golden left foot couldn’t recreate the crazy, last-minute drama that ended last year’s Premier League season. The Welshman’s late thunderbolt vs. Sunderland gave him 21 league goals this season and Tottenham a 1-0 victory, but it wasn’t enough to push Spurs into the lucrative Champions League.

Instead it was Arsenal left to party as if they’d actually won a trophy for finishing in fourth place — one point clear of North London rival Tottenham.

Ultimately Laurent Koscielny’s second half volley from two yards settled the final mystery remaining in the 2012-13 Premier League season. It gave Arsenal a 1-0 win over Newcastle United and in turn the Gunners booked a place in the Champions League for the 16th straight season under manager Arsene Wenger.

The frantic, last-second finish last season which saw Manchester City swipe the title from Manchester United on the last kick of the year, never quite materialized. Koscielny’s goal came early in the second half and Newcastle never mounted much of a challenge on the other end to make it dramatic thanks to a sturdy, assured defensive display from Arsenal led by the central pairing of Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. (Had Newcastle tied or won the game and it ended in a draw, Tottenham would’ve finished in fourth place.)

Left for dead following a 2-1 loss to Tottenham on March 3 that dropped them seven points off the Champions League places, Arsenal closed the season with eight wins and two draws meaning the Gunners will get all the sweet sweet UEFA moneycake and prestige. Down the stretch it wasn’t the typical pretty stuff you usually associate with Arsenal, but it was effective, results-oriented soccer to get the job done.

Spurs were once again Spurs for much of the match against lowly Sunderland.

On the plus side Tottenham won’t spend the summer ruing two penalty shouts toward referee Andre Mariner in either half or hitting the post. Instead Spurs will regret, in Bale, they received arguably one of the best individual, game-changing performances in the Premier League era and could only muster fifth place and another year in the purgatory that is the Europa League. For all the stunning goals and individual awards Bale piled up, his achievements this season end up amounting to Andre Dawson winning the 1987 National League MVP for a last-place Cubs team.

Last season Tottenham finished fourth, only to miss out on the Champions League because Chelsea took its spot for winning the competition. Today Spurs have no one to blame but themselves for costly losses to Liverpool and Fulham, as well as a 2-2 draw in late April with relegated Wigan Atheltic.

On top of that, the entire summer will be spent wondering over the future of Bale who’ll likely be linked to every big club in the world. Tottenham can yell from on high that Bale isn’t for sale, but as we know in soccer … everybody has a price.

Where Bale ends up with big among the major dominoes that should fall over the summer.

Regardless of the player movement, with all the coaching changes and big-name retirements the 2013-14 Premier League figures to look much different, well, in everything except the table where  we can expect Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal figure to make up the top four for another season.

Fergie Farewell: Sir Alex Ferguson’s final match in charge of league-champion Manchester United were dampened by a stunning 5-5 draw on the road to West Brom, which got a hat trick from Romelu Lukaku. Ferguson was still seen smiling as he saluted the fans when he walked off the field, but the Scot will be fuming for a while his final match ended in the first 5-5 result in Premier League history. Yep, that’s what happened.

Paul Scholes, the Ginger Ninja, also hung up his boots following the match.

Farewell Carra: Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher called it a career after Sunday’s final whistle against QPR. He almost scored Sunday, too, which would be impressive considering he only tallied four times in his career that spanned over 500 matches since joining the Merseyside club in 1996. A true professional and classy servant to Liverpool, No. 23 will be missed.

No Playoff: Fernando Torres’ second-half goal pushed Chelsea to a 2-1 win over Everton in David Moyes’ last game in charge of the Toffees. The goal, Torres’ first in league play in 2013, ensured Chelsea would finish third and get the direct spot in the Champions League and means a playoff with Arsenal on Wednesday won’t happen. Arsenal will now have to win a qualifying-playoff in August to earn its place in the Champions League Group Stage.

Signing off: Sunday also marked the changing of the guard for the way the Premier League is beamed into American televisions (and all other devices), with the final broadcasts by both Fox Soccer and ESPN. NBC Sports takes over the Premier League contract starting in August. A fond, hearty farewell to the ESPN duo of Ian Darke and Steve McManaman, who’ve mostly been a pleasure to listen to these last three years. Fox retains the Champions League and will have the World Cup in 2018, so we haven’t seen the last of their less-than-lovable approach to broadcasting. Still, Fox provided us with the Premier League for 15 years, there might have been a lot of criticize, but they gave us the games and that does count for something.

[Photo via Getty]

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