Tottenham brace for more Champions League heartache
On the last day of the Premier League season, Tottenham and Arsenal will battle it out to confirm their place in the Champions League
Andre Villas-Boas admits Tottenham Hotspur go into the final game of the season against Sunderland today bracing themselves for yet more Champions League disappointment.
After appearing secure in the top four when they were seven points clear of Arsenal in March, Villas-Boas' side welcome Sunderland to White Hart Lane knowing even a victory may not be enough to clinch a place in Europe's premier club competition.
Lying fifth, a point behind Arsenal, Spurs could again be left frustrated 12 months after being denied entry to the Champions League despite finishing fourth when Chelsea claimed the final spot as holders of the trophy.
To add to their frustration, a win against Sunderland will mean they end the season with 72 points, the club's highest ever Premier League tally.
"In the past it would have been enough to make it," said Villas-Boas. "It would have been enough apart from the 2007-08 season when the fourth-placed team [Liverpool] finished with 76 points. I think what it represents, if we don't achieve it, is one more sign that you have to push up to get closer to that group.
"Whenever that group is competing for titles, the reference of points will be higher and you have to improve and you have to get more points the next time.
"Our step at the moment is to be into the Champions League, probably not title contenders but we hope to be competitive next season if we manage to do things properly in the summer. You have to strengthen for next season to get a higher tally of points."
Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, insists he would have been happy to see Arsenal's Champions League hopes go to the final day when his side appeared out of the race for a top four finish earlier this season.
Wenger's side trailed Tottenham by seven points in March, but now play their final fixture at Newcastle today knowing victory will guarantee they finish at least fourth and play in the Champions League qualification rounds.
Should Chelsea fail to beat Everton, they could yet finish third, possibly via a play-off if the two clubs finish level on points, goal difference and goals scored.
The uncertainty ensures there will be some nerves at St James' Park. But Gunners boss Wenger said: "I know for a long time that for us, when we were seven points behind, we would all be happy that it goes to the last day.
"We are in a position where nobody expected us to be. We have our destiny in our hands, our fate in our hands and that's what you fight for in the game.
"It is a game that we will now want to win but at least we fought back to be in a position where we master our own fate."
Asked about the prospect of a play-off with Chelsea, he added: "I would fancy that. A play-off exists only if win our game, so let's win the game and see what happens.
"The biggest task is to win the game and not speculate too much on what happens after because the first compulsory thing we face is to win the game on Sunday."
After returning from Amsterdam this week with the Europa League trophy following a dramatic final win over Benfica, Chelsea's much-maligned interim boss Rafael Benitez hopes to give Chelsea one more leaving present with three points at Stamford Bridge.
"We have to concentrate on what we can do and try to win our game," Benitez said. "We have been working so hard in the season that it would be a pity if we could not finish in the top three.
"We will try to win and we won't consider any other option. If we have to do it, these are the rules, but we will try to avoid the situation. I have confidence we will do it."
English football will witness the end of an era today when Alex Ferguson takes charge of Manchester United for the 1,500th and final time in their last game of the season at West Bromwich Albion.
Having waved goodbye to Old Trafford in an emotional 2-1 win over Swansea City last weekend, Ferguson will close the door on his managerial career at The Hawthorns - 26 years, six months and 11 days since his first game at the United helm, a 2-0 loss at Oxford United on November 8, 1986.
It promises to be a day rich in nostalgia for Ferguson, who will be succeeded by Everton manager David Moyes on July 1.
The Premier League will also bid farewell to Liverpool stalwart Jamie Carragher, 35, who has spent his whole career at Anfield, winning the Champions League, two FA Cups and three League Cups. The Merseyside-born star will fittingly bow out as captain for his 737th and last appearance for the Reds against QPR.