Thursday, January 18, 2018
Sports

Goodbye Ferguson, hello again to Arsenal

LONDON — Arsenal qualified for the Champions League for the 16th straight season after edging Tottenham for fourth place in the Premier League and Chelsea clinched its place in the Champions League group stage as the season finished Sunday.

But the day might be best remembered because Alex Ferguson bowed out as Manchester United manager with a 5-5 tie at West Bromwich Albion.

Laurent Koscielny's 52nd-minute volley sealed an unconvincing 1-0 win for Arsenal at Newcastle, rendering the Spurs' 1-0 win over Sunderland — on a late winner from Gareth Bale — meaningless.

"We celebrated a bit like we had won the championship, which was a bit weird considering the ambition at the start of the season," said Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, whose team won eight and tied two in its final 10 games.

Chelsea finished third — the last automatic Champions League spot — by beating Everton 2-1 thanks to Fernando Torres' winner in interim manager Rafa Benitez's last game in charge.

With the title fight decided a month ago and the three relegation spots (Wigan, Reading and Queen's Park Rangers) already settled, the remaining business was bidding farewell to several icons.

Ferguson, 71, was treated to a wild match at The Hawthorns in his 1,500th and last game at United, with his team surrendering a 5-2 lead in the final 10 minutes. United midfielder Paul Scholes, Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher and Stoke City striker Michael Owen all played their final games before retiring.

There were 36 goals on the final day, none better than Bale's left-footed blast from 35 yards for Tottenham. But Spurs' fierce North London rival, Arsenal, held on to win and Tottenham missed the Champions League — and were consigned to the second-tier Europa League — on the final day for the second consecutive season.

What's the difference?

Teams in this year's Champions League group stage, guaranteed only for the top three in England, made a guaranteed $11 million plus performance bonuses. The group stage participants in the Europa League made $1.6 million.

And that's before accounting for the gap of many millions in television revenue.

"It is difficult to take. In the end we did what we had to, but Arsenal did their job well and go through," Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas said.

Arsenal's finish means it must go through a qualifying round to make the Champions League group stage.

After the last game of a reign spanning almost 27 years, Ferguson bowed to the Manchester United fans who had backed him during the lean early years of his tenure. He went on to win a staggering 38 trophies, including this year's Premier League, the 13th time the Red Devils ruled England under Ferguson.

"It is not only a loss for the British fans but he has changed football across the world," Man U striker Javier Hernandez said. "He has been here for 26 years and made the impossible dream come true."

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