By Georgina Turner
May 06, 2010

With the final day's Premier League action looming, it had seemed appropriate to engineer a way to have dramatic music boom out at you as you clicked on this page. But after Tottenham went and beat Manchester City on Wednesday to secure at least fourth place and a berth in the Champions League, bringing resolution to one suspenseful storyline, we didn't bother.

Not that the most exciting Premiership season in years will end on a total anti-climax: Chelsea still has to beat Wigan -- or at least match Manchester United's result against Stoke City -- to collect its first title since 2006. If Carlo Ancelotti's men fall short, Sir Alex Ferguson's club will retain the trophy for the fourth consecutive year (the first time a Premiership team would accomplish the feat in 122 years). Also this weekend, Spurs will try to catch Arsenal for third.

It all just feels rather unlikely, is the trouble. Even after a season of such twists and turns as this.

Wigan manager Roberto Martinez, who knows that a victory could earn his side an extra $1.1 million by securing the 14th spot, understands the challenge and its ramifications. "We know it is a tough place to go, but I can guarantee everyone that we will give our best," he said, not quite convincingly -- though Wigan did beat a 10-man Chelsea 3-1 in the reverse fixture. "If we can do the double, then that would be some achievement."

He is not wrong. Back in September, Chelsea was still struggling for width and looked vulnerable at set pieces, but the resemblance to the team of the last few weeks -- which Ancelotti has no need to change -- is minimal.

"The reaction since [losing to Internazionale and tying Blackburn in March] is what's put us in this position with a game to go," said Frank Lampard, whose teamwork with Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka has helped Chelsea finish with a flourish, winning five of its last seven, including last week's 2-0 win over Liverpool.

Wigan might have surprised Arsenal last month (when it scored three goals in the last 10 minutes to win 3-2), but Chelsea rarely fades in such fashion. Of the 32 goals it's conceded, 24 have come in the first hour, compared to just four in the last 10 minutes.

"I wouldn't say it's a sealed result against Wigan," said Ferguson, half-heartedly wafting his tongue toward the inside of his cheek. "All we can do is win against Stoke. You never know, football is a crazy game."

It's unlikely to be mad enough to see the Potters leave Manchester with three points. Wednesday's 1-0 defeat of Fulham was Stoke's first win in a month; the club is 4-6-8 on the road this season, and was beaten 5-0 at Old Trafford last season.

United's failure to meet its end of the bargain would be more surprising than a Chelsea loss. After a none-too-promising start to the season, Nani has been exceptional of late; the reliable supply from him and Antonio Valencia on the other wing should afford Wayne Rooney ample opportunity to get behind Stoke's defense and work goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.

That leaves the third-place tussle between Arsenal and Spurs, two points behind their rivals, as the marquee attraction. For Gunners fans, finishing below Tottenham would mark the commencement of Armageddon, and the team's recent play hasn't exactly filled fans with confidence.

"Because we are not in the race anymore something has gone in the belief," Arsene Wenger conceded after watching a 2-1 loss to Blackburn on Monday, another tepid display at Ewood Park. Despite some nice stops, Lukasz Fabianksi remains, for the most part, a baby-faced goalkeeping horror. Theo Walcott was all but absent again. "Overall, Blackburn were sharper in the duels and in the fight than us," Wenger said. "But there is one game to go and we are playing at home."

And they are playing a Fulham squad likely more focused on next Wednesday's Europa League final than on closing out the Premiership season. Already stung by the FA's denial to play the match on Saturday to give Fulham time to prepare for the final, manager Roy Hodgson will have to make do without the injured Damien Duff and Bobby Zamora, further bolstering Arsenal's quest.

Still, Tottenham has plenty of incentive for pushing Arsenal, as snatching third would also allow Tottenham to avoid UEFA's newly formatted Champions League qualifying stage, though Harry Redknapp isn't optimistic.

"I doubt we'll get third," Redknapp said Wednesday shortly before being drenched by icy water by his overexcited players celebrating victory at Manchester City. "But we've made fourth and anything above that is a bonus."

At Turf Moor, Redknapp can take the opportunity to help Aaron Lennon -- who eased his way toward threatening in the 70 minutes he got against City -- back toward full fitness, if nothing else. That task will be an interesting one against a Burnley club whose play has lurched from shambolic to embarrassing and back again, dropping 26 of the last 30 available points. But there are worse ways to end the Premiership season than with a pleasant yet meaningless win on a balmy May afternoon.

You May Like

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)