The battle for the fourth place in the Premier League looks like one that nobody wants to win.
Arsenal remain stuck in reverse, Tottenham still have a step back for every few forward, and Manchester United are being allowed to stay in the fight despite barely throwing a punch.
Here, the PA news agency looks at a weekend of missed opportunities at the top and bottom of the table.
Arsenal do not look ready for Champions League return
💬 "It's a big disappointment. I think everybody in the dressing room knows that it's not enough but we need to stick together and get back to winning ways."
🎙 Sambi Lokonga#SOUARS
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) April 16, 2022
Mikel Arteta’s side went into last month’s international break with a four-point cushion in fourth and a game in hand over Manchester United, seemingly on course for a return to the Champions League after a five-year absence. But the wheels have come off in April, with Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Southampton a third straight defeat and one that saw them slip to sixth. Matches against Crystal Palace, Brighton and the Saints should all have been winnable for a side with ideas of returning to Europe’s elite, but a blunt attack has managed only one goal in those three games, and back-to-back fixtures against Chelsea and top-four rivals United now look much more daunting.
Tottenham squander their own chance
Making the recent bad run worse for Arsenal is the fact rivals Tottenham were the ones benefitting, winning four in a row to take control of fourth. But Spurs continue to show inconsistency just when things are going their way. A week after ripping apart Aston Villa 4-0, Antonio Conte’s side failed to even register a shot on target in a turgid 90 minutes that was arguably their worst display since the Italian took charge. They must set things straight next week against a Brentford side revitalised since the arrival of former Spurs midfielder Christian Eriksen.
United allowed to hang around
The woes afflicting both north London sides mean Manchester United remain in the top-four race almost despite themselves, three points behind Spurs ahead of Tuesday’s trip to Liverpool. After the noise of Saturday’s protests against the Glazers, United took a 2-0 lead over Norwich then promptly allowed the rock-bottom Canaries to draw level before Cristiano Ronaldo completed his hat-trick to bail them out. It was only a second win in six in the league after dropped points against relegation-battling Watford and Everton, and as the noise around Erik Ten Hag’s expected arrival as the new manager this summer increases, the scale of the rebuilding job he will face is obvious.
Burnley fight on but no easy fixes
The shock of Sean Dyche’s sacking on Friday had barely subsided by the time Burnley kicked off at West Ham on Sunday, but without their long-time manager there was still a familiar look to the Clarets. Wout Weghorst’s second Burnley goal gave them a first-half lead but it was one they could not capitalise due to the profligacy in front of goal which is likely to send them down – with Maxwel Cornet’s penalty miss before half-time critical as Pavel Soucek levelled in the second half, and Burnley needed Nick Pope’s brilliance to avoid defeat. Burnley remain in touch, but that is where they have been for months now – tantalisingly close without the ability to lift themselves out of the bottom three.
Newcastle are safe
It might not be mathematical yet but Newcastle can get on with drawing up plans for the next transfer window certain they will be playing Premier League football next season. Bruno Guimaraes’ stoppage-time winner over Leicester underlined what was already apparent – the Magpies are staying up, now 12 points clear of the bottom three after five straight home wins. Eddie Howe has said the summer will be one of evolution rather than revolution as the wealth of their Saudi ownership will be subject to the league’s spending restrictions, but it is sure to be fascinating summer on Tyneside.