The relegation picture took center stage in terms of headlines going into the final week of the Premier League season, but several clubs took their last game of the season to show fans what might be possible in the future.
Arsenal showed that there’s desire left in their tank despite a sad stretch run, Manchester United showed a seriousness to their comeback bid, and Southampton hollered down to the Championship to look out for Saints.
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But, yes, all focus is on Goodison Park, where Everton did what it needed to claim another season in the Premier League and fans made sure the club knew that one day of success doesn’t make amends for two seasons of big struggles.
Here’s where our writers are living, as Joe Prince-Wright (JPW), Andy Edwards (AE), and Nicholas Mendola (NM) share their observations from across the most recent PL games.
10 things we learned in the Premier League – Week 38
1. Toffees shake off slow start, save Premier League status (Everton 1-0 AFC Bournemouth): Everton was set up with five at the back from the start and it was too negative. Sean Dyche got it right though. All they needed was one loose ball to drop to the right on-rushing central midfielder and it did in the second half as Abdoulaye Doucoure hammered home. It was a brilliant finish in what wasn’t a brilliant game (Dyche called it “hideous”). But Everton and Dyche don’t care. With loads of injuries they found a way to get it done and the history books show that Everton have still never been relegated from the Premier League and only Arsenal have a longer active top-flight streak as they will be playing at England’s top table next season, their 70th consecutive at the top level. Off the pitch there are financial issues to solve which could impact them next season but Dyche has done his job and if Everton are smart they should give him the tools to rip things up and rebuild the squad. Just staying up like this can’t happen again to Everton. They said that last season but look what happened. This time they have to make sure they are never in the relegation scrap again. A club of Everton’s size should never be in this situation. (JPW)
2. Too little, too late for Foxes as win not enough (Leicester 2-1 West Ham): “Too little, too late” may go down as the story of the Foxes season. Leicester did not get its recruitment plans correct — somewhat forced by Financial Fair Play — and then put too much faith in Brendan Rodgers to make things work. Dean Smith got some performances out of this men, few better than Sunday, but this ultimately feels like a fait accompli: Sometimes, the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Despite big seasons from Harvey Barnes and James Maddison, this was that. There’s also the question of playing for a draw against Newcastle on Monday, but let’s not heap criticism on Dean Smith for taking a calculated risk. He deserves better. (NM)
3. Leeds final game of relegation campaign too familiar (Leeds 1-3 Spurs): It was a nightmare start for Leeds, who needed not only a victory of their own but also points to be dropped by both Everton and Leicester above them. Tottenham’s first foray into Leeds’ penalty area ended with Kane hammering the ball past Joel Robles. The second frame was a new half but same story for Leeds, who conceded once again barely a minute into the second half. Kane turned provider this time, as he lofted a blind ball into the channel for the overlapping Pedro Porro, who barely had a sight of goal with Robles smothering the near post. But, Porro placed a pinpoint strike just inside the far post from a tight angle. Big Sam couldn’t fix the defense and maybe it was unfixable. Leeds didn’t keep a clean sheet after February 25. At least they gave their fans a goal in nearly every game during that run to relegation. (AE).
4. Ten Hag’s men finish strong to reset standards (Manchester United 2-1 Fulham): It’s difficult not to talk big picture after a Championship Sunday like this where the top four was sorted before the matchday began in England. Manchester United is in as good shape as it’s been in some time because it had success this season while building upward from its foundation. Yes, the club still has some older key pieces in Casemiro and Raphael Varane, but Erik ten Hag’s system looks ready for finer ingredients and the boss will now have a great idea of what pieces work and what pieces are for someone else’s project. This was a successful year for Manchester United, the type that will make sure that success at Manchester United is measured in a relatively new but still very familiar way: by bigger ambition. (NM)
5. Gunners show glimpse that hunger for more remains (Arsenal 5-0 Wolves): It would have been easy for Arsenal to mail this one in given their poor finish to the season which stopped them from winning the Premier League title. But the young Gunners dug in and impressed as they finished with a flourish and proved they are hungry to close the gap on Man City next season. They can do it and with smart recruitment in midfield and defense this summer, Arsenal can acquire the extra squad depth they need to have more staying power next season. This was more than a 5-0 win. It was about showing they are here to stay. And they are. (JPW)
6. Saints show talent to come straight back up (Southampton 4-4 Liverpool): It was a sad day for Saints but in James Ward-Prowse, Carlos Alcaraz, and Kamaldeen Sulemana they showed they have talented players who can lead their Championship playoff push next season. But will those star players still be around? Saints now need to cut the deadwood, start again with a new manager, and try their best to keep the six or so players they have in their current squad who will be starters in the Championship. Saints need to follow the way Fulham and Bournemouth rebounded as they hit the reset this summer. There are stars at Saints but they needed defensive solidity, a clear playing style and more experience if they’re going to get the best out of their undoubted talents. (JPW).
7. Blues get taught familiar lesson in draw (Chelsea 1-1 Newcastle): At home against a Newcastle team down its top goalkeeper and starting several second-choice players including youngsters Anthony Gordon and Elliot Anderson, Chelsea should’ve been able to finish this season with a win. But the team without finishers again failed to finish and left the stadium with a 1-1 draw and their bottom half status still baffling their talent level. Mauricio Pochettino, should he arrive as expected, needs to get a clinical finisher, although let’s be honest: Chelsea’s probably going to get significantly better just by getting a manager of Pochettino’s renown in the club over Frank Lampard’s entirely forgettable tenure as interim boss .Is it August yet? (NM)
8. Bees finish with win over much-changed champions’ (Brentford 1-0 Man City): It was a long wait for the game’s only goal, but the Brentford fans got to celebrate once more as they closed out a brilliant second season in the top flight. Bryan Mbeumo laid the ball back to Ethan Pinnock, who came streaking into the penalty area completely unmarked. Pinnock guided a low strike out of Ederson’s reach to secure victory no. 15 on the Bees’ season. City started Rico Lewis, Kalvin Phillips, Cole Palmer, and Sergio Gomez, and its only sub was 19-year-old newcomer Shea Charles. They still out-attempted the hosts 17-11 while keeping 66 percent of the ball. (AE)
9. Cooper, Hodgson finish unexpected jobs well done (Crystal Palace 1-1 Nottingham Forest): Neither Nottingham Forest boss Steve Cooper nor Palace counterpart Roy Hodgson would’ve seen themselves in this exact position earlier this season. Yes, Cooper might’ve thought his team would take time to adjust to the Premier League but did he expect a final few safe weekends without real repercussions? Probably not, but he did very well to navigate what became a dragged-out process and Forest did well to stick with the man who got them to the PL. Hodgson was retired at the start of the season and it surprised many that Palace cut ties with Patrick Vieira only to bring Hodgson back. The club legend did well right away, though, and he’Il only be more beloved should he decide to retire (again). (NM)
10. Emery gets Villa back into Europe (Aston Villa 2-1 Brighton): Aston Villa finished Unai Emery’s first (partial) season in charge by qualifying for the Europa Conference League with a 2-1 victory over Brighton at Villa Park on Sunday. Brighton (62 points – 6th place) entered the final day of the 2022-23 season having already qualified for next season’s Europa League, which will be the Seagulls’ first time in European competition in club history, and Villa was keen to join them. (AE)