Week 35 will be long associated with the demise of David Moyes. United’s 2-0 loss to Everton does not impact on the table. But the ramifications were wide and how ironic that the final nail in Moyes’ coffin came at his old ground. After twenty-seven years of stable rule under Ferguson, his replacement lasted only nine months.
In fact by the summer, United could have four managers within a year, counting Giggs as interim, and the task of replacing Moyes could be made all the more difficult during a World Cup year. Klopp has already ruled himself out with Van Gaal now the favourite.
The expectations of United fans, many born after Ferguson assumed the United role, were unrealistic to think that they could continue to dominate like before after his retirement. Ferguson’s retirement was always going to be the doomsday scenario. Indeed they failed to realise that the dominance they long enjoyed is always cyclical in football. And it was fitting that Liverpool took a further step towards the holy grail with a 3-2 win over Norwich. But it is a sobering thought for United fans that Liverpool took over two decades to return to the top.
The top three title challengers remain unchanged since last weekend. But second-placed Chelsea appear to have ruled themselves out with a surprise 2-1 loss to Sunderland at home. Chelsea are now five points behind with three games to play and barring a spectacular implosion by Liverpool, it is their title to lose. Mourinho may now be focused on Europe for silverware.
Manchester City’s situation isn’t much better. They are a further four points back from Chelsea, nine from Liverpool, but have two games in hand. Again Rodger’s side are in the driving seat but one slip up and City are back in the hunt. Ironically, Chelsea could do City an almighty favour if they win at Anfield on Sunday.
Beyond that, fourth place was swapped again with Arsenal dethroning Everton thanks to the Toffees’ midweek loss to Palace. However from sixth place to tenth; Tottenham, Manchester United, Southampton, Newcastle and Stoke remain in their places despite having wildly varying weeks both on and off the pitch.
While at the other end, the relegation battle became all the more real as Burnley secured promotion. Cardiff’s draw with Stoke edges them back into eighteenth. And Sunderland remain bottom yet edge to within a point of Cardiff and Fulham and still have a game in hand.
Norwich, two points ahead of Cardiff and Fulham in seventeenth, and West Brom, three points ahead in eighteenth, remain tantalising close to the bottom three but time is running out. But for this week, Premier Snakes and Ladders will pay particular attention to the battle for fourth and will begin with the recovering Gunners.
4th Arsenal +1
Even with the consolation of the FA Cup, this will not be considered a vintage year for Arsenal. They have been challenged before in previous seasons, but Martinez’ Everton pose an ominous threat and could potentially match the Gunners at their own game. If anything Everton could improve further in upcoming seasons if they can find a permanent solution up front. But for now, the Londoners clearly have an easier run in with Everton still due to face Manchester City.
Ramsey’s goal and assist reminded us of where it went wrong for Arsenal this season. Contributing goals from midfield alone at Arsenal is at a premium with their passing style. On Sunday, his contribution combined with Podolski’s brace and an improving Ozil made Arsenal look formidable once again. And on this form, Hull were simply outclassed.
It was a good result for Arsenal especially with the approaching FA Cup final against the same opponents. While there is also relief amongst the Gunner’s faithful in returning to the top four. However if it stays as it is at the end of the season, Arsenal fans may ask why they again ended a season desperately defending their Champions League status instead of challenging for the title. It will be an important summer ahead for Arsenal; with or without Champions league football.
18th Cardiff +1
Last week Fulham were on the up. This week it is the turn of Cardiff. Relegation musical chairs continues unabated but which team times it right is still to be decided. Even at this stage of the season, no team is scuttled at the bottom and beyond recovery. Yet a point for Cardiff on Saturday, though welcomed, is leaving it a little late.
On Saturday, they had good reason to curse their luck. Stoke opened the scoring just before the break with a dubious penalty decision. But balance was restored after the break when Cardiff were awarded one of their own. Stoke were comfortable for most of the afternoon but Solskjaer’s side once again showed resilience to salvage a draw. But resilience alone isn’t enough to stay in this league.
In reality this point only kept the life-support on for now. Indeed it is their next encounter against Sunderland that will decide who Burnley and Co. replace. For the winning team, Norwich and West Brom look vulnerable just ahead. But if Cardiff lose, they will be relying on their two remaining fixtures against Newcastle and Chelsea for redemption. Sunday then is Cardiff’s very own D-Day.
5th Everton -1
A mixed week for the Toffees overall. They fell victim to a stubborn Crystal Palace on Wednesday but on Sunday they took great pleasure from contributing to their former manager’s demise. But the standard of that performance doesn’t disguise the fact that they ceded ground and fourth place to Arsenal this week.
Sunday’s encounter was full of symbolism for Everton. Moyes’ downfall will capture the spotlight but the game was a dramatic barometer of how far Everton have progressed technically under Martinez. A penalty from Baines and a Mirallas strike was enough to down United but that score line fails to reflect the sheer level of superiority Everton showed. By the end of the game, some Everton players appeared almost on the verge of showboating.
Everton are now behind Arsenal in fifth with a similar goal difference. Three games against Southampton, Manchester City and Hull and a possible nine points are all that is left to achieve Martinez’s top four goal. But realistically, anything more than six points would be a bonus. They may have already surpassed their record Premier League record points haul. However as it stands, they might have to wait until next year for Champions league qualification.
Alan Casey, Pundit Arena.