London (AFP) – Chelsea intensified the race for a place in next season’s Champions League, whilst Manchester City finally got their hands on the Premier League trophy and Arsenal bid farewell to manager Arsene Wenger in style on a busy Sunday.
Olivier Giroud scored the only goal at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea’s 1-0 win over Liverpool saw them also capitalise on Tottenham’s defeat at West Brom on Saturday to take the race for the top four into the final week of the season.
At the other end of the table, Stoke became the first side relegated to the Championship. West Brom still look almost certain to join them despite a late season revival.
But Brighton and West Ham celebrated securing survival, whilst Huddersfield took a huge step towards maintaining their top-flight status by holding City 0-0 at the Etihad.
Giroud Chelsea’s head boy
Deemed surplus to requirements by Wenger, Olivier Giroud has wasted little time carving out a role for himself at Chelsea.
The France striker underlined his potent presence with the decisive goal to keep Chelsea in the Champions League race.
Blues boss Antonio Conte opted to stick with Giroud as the spearhead of his attack in place of the off-form Alvaro Morata.
Where Morata has struggled to adapt to the physical demands of English football, Giroud is well versed in the aggressive nature needed to thrive in Premier League penalty areas.
His aerial prowess came to the fore in the first half at Stamford Bridge when he muscled in front of Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren and headed in his fifth Chelsea goal since his January move.
Chelsea still need one more defeat for Spurs or Liverpool to have matters back in their own hands, but if they do return to the Champions League, Giroud’s goal worth its weight in gold.
Home comforts not enough for Arsenal
Arsenal’s destruction of Burnley to see off Wenger in style saw them move level with champions City for the highest number of points won at home this season.
The Gunners won 15 of their 19 games on home soil. However, that their formidable home form has only been good enough for a sixth-placed finish, only underlines just how poor Wenger’s final season has been on the road.
Arsenal are the only side left in English football yet to take a point away from home in 2018.
No yoyo back to the Championship
Brighton’s win over Manchester United and Huddersfield’s resolute display to become the first side all season to hold City to a blank at home means all three promoted clubs now look set to stay up.
Newcastle and Brighton are mathematically safe, whilst it would require a series of results to go against Huddersfield for the Terriers not to survive.
A second season back in the top flight for all three would mean for just the third time in 25 years of the Premier League, none of the three sides that came up have gone straight back down.
Stoke stars to be picked off
By contrast, Stoke’s nine-year Premier League stay came to an end on Saturday as in the story of a sorry season, they threw away a lead and then conceded late to lose 2-1 at home to Crystal Palace.
A squad many would have considered too good to go down at the start of the campaign could now be gutted by preying Premier League clubs over the summer.
England international goalkeeper Jack Butland has attracted interest from Liverpool in the past, whilst former Bayern Munich and Inter Milan midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri won’t be short of offers once he returns from the World Cup with Switzerland.
Mourinho knows best
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho made six changes for his side’s defeat at Brighton, and didn’t spare those that missed their chance to impress ahead of the FA Cup final in two weeks’ time.
With Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez absent through injury, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial in particular failed to impress in rare starts up front.
“For many months you are always asking me why this player doesn’t play? Why that player doesn’t play? Why this player is on the bench? Why always Lukaku?” said Mourinho.
“I know my players better than you, and probably you don’t know them so well to be always with these questions.”