LONDON (AP) — Manchester United will have to settle for Europa League football next season after a dismal end to this campaign reached another low.
Chelsea, though, can start planning for the Champions League again.
The Premier League’s top-four picture crystalized on Sunday as Chelsea earned a 3-0 home win against Watford while United and Arsenal were both held to 1-1 draws.
It means Chelsea is guaranteed to finish at least fourth — earning a coveted Champions League spot after a year in the Europa League — while United can no longer end up better than fifth after next weekend’s final round.
“We haven’t deserved to be a top-four (side),” United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said after his team limped to a draw at already relegated Huddersfield. “When we got the opportunities we weren’t able to really grab them. Today was just the confirmation of a long season. Because in the end, the table doesn’t lie.”
Arsenal, meanwhile, will need a small miracle to overtake fourth-place Tottenham as it trails its north London rival by three points and an eight-goal margin on goal difference. The Gunners were also held 1-1 by Brighton at the Emirates in its final home game of the season, meaning it will probably have to win the Europa League in order to clinch a Champions League spot.
Chelsea and Arsenal could meet in the Europa League final if they both advance from the second leg of the semifinals on Thursday.
Here’s a look at Sunday’s games:
WHEEL COMES OFF FOR UNITED
Much like Solskjaer’s entire tenure so far, it all started well for United at Huddersfield only for the team to falter in the end.
Its already slim top-four hopes ended in almost symbolic fashion as a defensive breakdown in the 60th minute allowed the hosts to equalize through Isaac Mbenza, who was allowed to run clear through on goal on a quick counterattack. It was the kind of mistake that has plagued Solskjaer’s team too often in recent weeks, with the team winning just one of its last eight games in all competitions.
Scott McTominay had given United the lead in the eighth minute with a shot that slipped underneath Jonas Lossl, but the Huddersfield goalkeeper made amends by setting up the equalizer on the hour mark. After collecting a cross, he quickly booted the ball up the pitch and an error by Luke Shaw allowed Mbenza to come one-on-one with David De Gea.
“We have conceded too many of those this season,” Solskjaer said. “It hurts, every time you don’t win a game of football. Especially with the start we made.”
Mbenza’s goal was only Huddersfield’s 10th at home this season and he celebrated by kicking the corner flag so hard it broke — leading to a five-minute delay as stadium staff searched for a replacement.
CHELSEA GOES THIRD
For the opening 45 minutes, it looked like Chelsea would also fail to capitalize on Tottenham’s loss at Bournemouth on Saturday. The first-half display at Stamford Bridge was so poor that Maurizio Sarri’s side was booed off by the home crowd at the break.
But Ruben Loftus-Cheek gave Sarri some breathing space with a header in the 48th minute and David Luiz netted the second just three minutes later from another corner.
Gonzalo Higuain added the third with an elegant chip past goalkeeper Ben Foster from a difficult angle.
Sarri said Thursday’s trip to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League semifinals — where Chelsea drew 1-1 — could have contributed to the poor start.
“At the beginning we were tired physically and mentally. Then in the second half they lowered the intensity and we got in control of the match,” he said.
The only negative for Chelsea was N’Golo Kante having to come off injured after just 10 minutes, with Loftus-Cheek coming on as his replacement.
Much like United, Arsenal’s dismal domestic form let it down again.
Granit Xhaka gave away a needless penalty by pulling down Solly March to allow Glenn Murray to equalize from the penalty spot in the 61st minute and cancel out an early spot kick by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Arsenal have only earned four points from its last six league games and this latest setback means Unai Emery’s first season in charge will most likely end in disappointment on the domestic level.
Aubameyang opened the scoring after Nacho Monreal was fouled just inside the box but the Gunners couldn’t build on their advantage and allowed Brighton back into the game by gifting the visitors an equalizer.
The result led to a chorus of boos from the crowd and increases the pressure on Emery’s team ahead of its trip to Valencia on Thursday, where it will try to protect a 3-1 advantage from the first leg of their semifinal.
NORWICH WINS CHAMPIONSHIP
Having already secured promotion to the Premier League, Norwich added the second-tier League Championship title with a 2-1 win against Aston Villa.
Mario Vrancic scored the winner in the 86th to crown a superb season for the Canaries.
“To win the title is the icing on the cake,” Norwich manager Daniel Farke said. “To be able to lift the trophy at this amazing ground is a fantastic feeling.”
Aston Villa still has a chance to win promotion as well through the four-team playoffs, where it will play West Bromwich Albion in the semifinals. Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds and Frank Lampard’s Derby square off in the other semifinal, which will rekindle talk about a spying scandal between the two teams earlier this season.
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
The Western Journal has not reviewed this Associated Press story prior to publication. Therefore, it may contain editorial bias or may in some other way not meet our normal editorial standards. It is provided to our readers as a service from The Western Journal.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.