Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur in battle as Premier League trip nears its end

Arsenal and Spurs in fight for last ticket to Champions League, as Reading, QPR and Wigan savour the view for one last time

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 May, 2013, 3:15am

Double-decker buses are the quintessential vehicle of choice for any self-respecting EPL club. They ferry the successful and the doomed to their respective destinations, and parade cup and title holders around streets filled with cheering fans. How would English football function without these workhorses?

Relegated Wigan rounded the corner of their FA Cup victory parade and duly started on the deflating downhill trip to the Championship.

Scores of arrivals are expected...Jose Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo among them, we hope

In Manchester, Alex Ferguson took on the appearance of a tour guide on the top deck of his 20th title-bearing bus, regaling the cheering faithful with his 26-year trip into the history books, and pointing out glorious landmarks along the way.

Across town, Roberto Mancini was sent packing on the proverbial Etihad Stadium shuttle (it seems to depart every 15 minutes). Failure to win the FA Cup and seal City's expensive renaissance with a second successive league title booked his one-way ticket out of town.

Approaching in the opposite direction was the suitably nicknamed Manuel Pellegrini, or "The Engineer". He'll need his full set of spanners and a grease gun full of luck when he starts tinkering under the City bonnet.

In London, will the engineers at the Chelsea depot bolt on a perspex protection screen to the parade bus? Which Blues fan would dare lob a rotten tomato at the departing "Interim One", Rafa Benitez, after Wednesday's Europa League triumph - the first club to win all three European cups and the side's 11th title in 10 years?

Arsenal and Spurs will compete for the last available limo to the Champions League tomorrow, the battle for fourth place the only remaining business of the 2012-13 season.

The non-stop EPL-Championship service will see Reading and QPR climb aboard after their misery tour in the top flight - there's no mystery in not being good enough for the toughest league in the world. Departing as the final whistles are blown, along with Wigan, they will be whisked to less glamorous climes. Passing them on their way up the difficult mountain pass will be Cardiff and Hull, their buses swaying with celebrating passengers. Either Watford or Crystal Place will arrive soon after.

The expansive European network yields with the bustling domestic routes, too. Scores of arrivals are expected over the coming weeks, frequent travellers Jose Mourinho and Cristiano Ronaldo among them, we hope.

What a ride the 2012-13 season has been.

Runaway Manchester United ensured there was no repeat of last year - no last-day, last-minute, dying-seconds clincher. But the road has been no less bumpy and exhilarating.

The finger nails of Southampton, Sunderland, Newcastle and Aston Villa fans have been bitten to the quick - 40 points and the light at the end of tunnel refusing to loom large until Arsenal's thrashing of Wigan this week.

It's been a white-knuckle ride all the way, with the curtain finally coming down on the long reign of our collective nemesis, Ferguson. Missed he will certainly be - but next season promises to be a rip-roaring journey.

Just how will the seismic management shifts affect the natural order? Can Liverpool re-emerge and evict United from their perch? How will Everton adjust to life after David Moyes? Tottenham in Europe? Arsenal without Wenger? The return of the "Special One" at the Bridge? Welsh choirs from Cardiff and Swansea finding their voices on English terraces?

And what of the few club owners who have held faith in long-term managerial appointments? What must they be thinking? Chelsea have proved once again stability is not required to succeed. A revolving manager's door also reaps awards.

Of course, there is nothing to suggest that Moyes will enjoy anything but success, entrenched as winning is at Old Trafford. But there's a tantalising element of doubt and a scintilla of hope among most of us that - if only for a season - an unsettled United scrap it out in the middle of the queue with the rest of us.

How will all the new money affect the 2013-14 landscape? The Premier League's latest television deal is a record £3 billion (HK$35.5 billion) over three years - a 71 per cent increase. That's at least £14 million more per year for each football club, with the bottom team in the league from 2013-14 onwards likely to receive more than the £60.6 million Manchester City earned last year for ending last season as champions.

Will the new cash inflate player wages further and see club debt increased instead of reduced, as happened before? Many fans and organisations are calling for the new money to be used by clubs to reduce the cost of tickets. A survey, released this week, found many fans are close to snubbing the game simply because it has become unaffordable.

Will the club boards hear our concerns over the roar of their turbo-charged, stock-market-listed machines? There's much to contemplate and discuss during the two-month ride across the June and July wilderness.

Ten long months ago, I revealed the guilt I felt at subjecting my young son to a lifetime of angst as a Southampton fan. Now, I could not crow-bar him off the EPL magic bus even if I tried. So it's "Ding! Ding!" All aboard. Next stop, Saturday, August 17.