Five things we learned from the
Blackburn quickly removed itself from the endangered list with three first-half goals at Wolves. But at various points on a tense, volatile afternoon, all the other four teams were in the bottom four, and out of it.
For the second time this season, Blackpool led Manchester United in the second half. For the second time, the Tangerines collapsed and let in three goals. The 4-2 loss, which doomed them to a quick return to the Football League, was symbolic of a breakneck season in which wild attack was undermined by bewildered defense.
Wigan's final game also seemed to sum up its season. It somehow clung on during a first-half bombardment at Stoke before getting the goal that, at the time, it needed with 12 minutes left. It won, 1-0.
There was another unnecessary late fightback at Wolves, where the home team scored twice in the last 17 minutes as it lost, 3-2, to Blackburn. When the second goal went in with three minutes left, Wolves and Birmingham, which was drawing, 1-1, at Spurs, were set to finish level on 40 points. But that goal also meant the two teams were tied on the first tiebreaker, goal difference and Wolves held a nine-goal edge in the second tiebreaker, goals scored.
As it was, Roman Pavlyuchenko, a halftime replacement, may have bid adieu to the Spurs fans with his second goal three minutes into added time. He definitely said farewell to Birmingham. The 2-1 loss meant it was relegated in the same season it won its first trophy, the League Cup.
At the other end of the table, Birmingham and Blackpool both went down with 39 points. No team has been relegated with fewer since West Ham went down with 42 in that Abramovich summer of 2003.
The numbers suggest the top clubs have been more vulnerable this season. Part of it could be a World Cup hangover, which affects the bigger clubs more. Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, John Terry, Frank Lampard, Michael Essien, Wayne Rooney and, in a way, Rio Ferdinand are among those who have injury blighted seasons. Part of it could be the natural cycle of squads. Chelsea's has looked threadbare. Arsenal's has appeared unbalanced.
The question is whether there are also structural causes. This season saw the introduction of squad limits. Clubs can register only 25 players over 21 and eight of those must have spent years at an English or Welsh club before they turned 21. Those limits may explain the huge number of players out on loan. But many of them might have gone anyway. If toxic characters like Craig Bellamy or Emanuel Adebayor are only going to play in emergencies, you don't want hanging them around the training ground oozing bile. And a lot of the players the top clubs loaned out -- Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck, Danny Sturridge, Aaron Ramsey and Kyle Walker, to name a few, are precisely the sort of young English and Welsh players who don't count toward squad totals. Where the rules may bring a change is in the transfer market where, if the rumors are to be believed, homegrown players are high on the big spenders' summer wish lists and middling Premier League clubs are going to be able to charge a premium for talent they developed.
But that brings us to another proposes structural change: UEFA president Michel Platini's "financial fair play" rules which will refuse entry to European club competitions to club's whose owners have subsidized their clubs by more than €45 million ($63.58M) over the previous three years. This gives a window of opportunity to clubs not in Europe, but ultimately it will favor those with the biggest income (those already in the Champions league, for example). It's
So, maybe things are changing but, then again, maybe they aren't.
Wenger doesn't want Wilshere to play for England in the European Under-21 finals in Denmark in June. Wenger last week called the tournament is a "risk to his health," pointing out that Wilshere had played "almost 50 games" this season. The game Sunday was Wilshere's 52nd. One doesn't need to have Wenger's obsessive appetite for statistics to know that teenagers who play that many games almost inevitably pay a severe physical price later.
But while two of those games have been for the U-21s and one for the full England teams, the other 49 have been for Arsenal. Wilshere, a ceaseless runner and an abrasive tackler, has started 32 games in the Premier League this season and come on three times as a substitute. The only three games he missed were during a three-game suspension for a red card. Wenger has players who could have given Wilshere a break. Denilson has been complaining this week about his lack of games.
Wenger said, "I want England to well." That's a diplomatic thing to say, but he's paid to look after the interests of Arsenal not England (and not, it should be said, the players). Wilshere has been named to the England U-21 squad, but the