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Last Updated: Monday, 17 May, 2004, 09:10 GMT 10:10 UK
Premiership end of term report
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer

Wenger has masterminded a glorious triumph

Arsenal romped to the Premiership title, leaving records ripped up behind them as they played their way into the history books by remaining unbeaten throughout the season.

At the other end, the big story was the sorry decline of Leeds United - both financially and in a football sense - when they were finally robbed of Premiership status.

So who were the main movers and shakers?

And who will move forward with optimism and who will suffer an anxious summer before embarking on the same journey again next season?


ARSENAL (CHAMPIONS)

HIGHS: Virtually the entire League season has been a high. Magnificent, fast-flowing, winning football played by world-class players.

LOWS: Those desperate four days when Arsenal lost in the FA Cup semi-final to Manchester United at Villa Park, then lost 2-1 at home to Chelsea as the Champions League dream died once again.

PLAYER: Thierry Henry - head and shoulders above the rest, even given the sky-high standards of his team-mates. Arguably the most complete striker in the world and worthy winner of two Footballer of the Year accolades.

MANAGER: Arsene Wenger once again presided over players who treat their manager with total respect. He will already be plotting ways to achieve back-to-back titles and finally claim the Champions League.

PROSPECTS: Glittering - if they can keep Henry and Patrick Vieira - and there is no sign they won't. And if Wenger continues to add young talent like Jose Antonio Reyes, they will remain the team to beat.

VERDICT: Deserving champions and on course for more of the same next season.


CHELSEA (2nd)

HIGHS: Champions League win at Highbury that provided a signpost to the sort of glories demanded by the financial support provided by Roman Abramovich.

LOWS: The desperate 3-1 defeat in the Champions League semi-final, first leg in Monaco when Chelsea squandered a perfect position amid careless defending and puzzling substitutions against 10 men.

Off the field a real low was chief executive Peter Kenyon's bungled attempt to appoint England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson behind Claudio Ranieri's back.

PLAYER: Frank Lampard - so good he was immune to Ranieri's tinkering. The most improved player in the Premiership after a brilliant season.

MANAGER: Ranieri coped with real dignity, despite shameful treatment from the Chelsea hierarchy, who have effectively been seeking his replacement all season.

Led Chelsea into the Champions League again but his inexplicable substitutions that led to defeat in Monaco will always be a black mark and ammunition for his critics.

PROSPECTS: Limitless as long as Abramovich remains at Stamford Bridge. No player is beyond reach and with Porto coach Jose Mourinho seemingly lined up for next season, the Roman revolution is likely to continue.

VERDICT: Progress in the Premiership but will live to regret their Champions League exit. May never have a better chance of winning Europe's elite competition.


MANCHESTER UNITED (3rd)

HIGHS: The return of the Old Trafford fighting spirit and desire in the FA Cup semi-final victory against Arsenal.

LOWS: The Champions League exit against Porto, sparked by a last-minute fumble by goalkeeper Tim Howard and an earlier goal by Paul Scholes wrongly ruled out for offside. Not to mention the 4-1 loss at Manchester City.

PLAYER: Tim Howard. The goalkeeper had an inconsistent spell but still acquitted himself remarkably well after arriving unknown, unproven and untested from America.

MANAGER: Sir Alex Ferguson seems as hungry as ever but his recent record in the transfer market is unconvincing - Eric Djemba-Djemba, David Bellion and Kleberson to name but three.

PROSPECTS: Still a mighty force but Ferguson needs some serious top-class signings in the summer to stop whispers about his sell-by date.

VERDICT: Even an FA Cup final appearance cannot cover up a disappointing season both at home and abroad.


LIVERPOOL (4th)

HIGHS: Victory at Manchester United that sparked the late confirmation of a Champions League place.

LOWS: FA Cup exit at Portsmouth, Uefa Cup misery in Marseille and the failure to enter title contention at any point of the season.

PLAYER: Only one. Steven Gerrard, who has almost single-handedly propelled Liverpool into the Champions League.

MANAGER: Gerard Houllier has come under severe pressure and has at times appeared close to losing his job. He has achieved success with Champions League qualification but must challenge for the title next season.

PROSPECTS: Governed by what financial direction the club takes and how a potential transfer jackpot is spent.

VERDICT: Champions League is a consolation prize of sorts but still a bitter disappointment.


NEWCASTLE (5th)

HIGHS: Not too many. Home form has been good, but overall a disappointing campaign after the season started with high ambition and optimism.

LOWS: The damaging defeat in the Champions League qualfier against Partizan Belgrade cost the club millions and put the season on an instant downer.

Another low point was the desperate away form that undermined all Newcastle's efforts to qualify for the Champions League.

PLAYER: Alan Shearer. Once again the Geordie icon was outstanding, even in the darkest moments. He is set to retire at the end of next season - who can possibly replace him?

MANAGER: Is time finally up for Sir Bobby Robson? One of football's most enduring and successful figures is now 71 and is suddenly the subject of criticism after a disappointing season.

PROSPECTS: Uncertain. Talk of unrest in the camp and questions about the manager's future may make it an eventful summer.

VERDICT: Uefa Cup qualification is a poor return given the talent in the squad. Not good enough away from home and failure to qualify for the Champions League delivers a serious dent to their ambitions.


ASTON VILLA (6th)

HIGHS A season rich in progress after an opening day defeat at newly-promoted Portsmouth that suggested struggles ahead.

LOWS: The Carling Cup semi-final defeat against Bolton - where a crushing 5-2 first-leg defeat did the damage - and the last-day failure to qualify for Europe.

PLAYER: Juan Pablo Angel. The gifted striker struggled until new manager David O'Leary provided the spark that finally enabled him to fulfil his great potential.

MANAGER: O'Leary has silenced the critics, who claimed he would be lost without his chequebook. Made two solid signings in goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen and Gavin McCann.

O'Leary has rebuilt his reputation, which was tarnished - somewhat unfairly - at Leeds.

PROSPECTS: O'Leary has laid the foundations, now it is up to chairman Doug Ellis to provide the cash for Villa to push on.

VERDICT: Excellent progress under O'Leary in a quietly effective manner. A big club showing signs of stirring again.


CHARLTON (7th)

HIGHS: Crushing victory over Chelsea and a wonderful win at Liverpool which emphasised the steady progress and consolidation under Alan Curbishley.

LOWS: A slump towards the end of the season that wrecked their hopes of qualifying for Europe and the contentious sale of the talismanic Scott Parker to Chelsea.

PLAYER: Matt Holland proved an outstanding figure throughout the season - a mature captain and excellent contributor from midfield.

MANAGER: Same old story for Curbishley. Under-rated but another marvellous season for a manager who would rightly be coveted if he ever decided his work was done at Charlton.

PROSPECTS: Good. Curbishley has been promised the 10m from Parker's sale and has vowed to spend and improve. Expect more good work from a shrewd operator.

VERDICT: More consolidation at a club that is an example to others.


BOLTON (8th)

HIGHS: Reaching the Carling Cup final - only for it to end in defeat against Middlesbrough - and cementing their place in the Premiership with some excellent results.

LOWS: That Carling Cup defeat...and not much else!

PLAYER: Kevin Davies has been the benficiary of the Sam Allardyce magic. A player whose career was on the skids is reborn leading the Bolton front line.

MANAGER: Sam Allardyce continues to work miracles at Bolton - getting the best from solid professionals and inspiring new deeds from great players in the twilight of their careers.

PROSPECTS: Under Allardyce more progress is possible - and bold moves for Rivaldo show that he is still not satisfied. Bolton's boss holds the key to the future and it appears to be in safe hands.

VERDICT: An outstanding season for a club that now looks a more permanent fixture in the Premiership.


FULHAM (9th)

HIGHS: Victory at Manchester United and a consistent season that brought a deserved top-10 finish.

LOWS: Louis Saha's 12m departure to Manchester United after promises he would not be sold. A bitter exit that delivered a serious blow to Fulham's ambitions.

PLAYER: Steed Malbranque proved once again he is a player of the highest quality. Forced his way into the France squad and was a major creative force.

MANAGER: Chris Coleman had an outstanding first full season in charge. Marshalled his forces well and grew into the job. Strong, tactically astute and now ready to move forward.

PROSPECTS: Fulham will be delighted to return to Craven Cottage next season, leaving Loftus Road behind. If Coleman wins financial backing and is allowed to keep his best players, the future may be bright.

VERDICT: Excellent season for a team tipped for relegation and a manager tipped for the sack.


BIRMINGHAM (10th)

HIGHS: Outstanding away win at Newcastle and a stunning comeback from two goals down at Aston Villa - with a last-minute goal from Stern John.

LOWS: The FA Cup fifth-round defeat at home to Sunderland and the heavy home loss against Liverpool, which killed off all hopes of a Uefa Cup spot.

PLAYER: Mikael Forssell. On-loan striker from Chelsea who proved a masterful signing. Top scorer, cool finisher and back for next season.

MANAGER: Steve Bruce confirmed his growing reputation. He has the ability to attract top names and get results - now Birmingham must keep him.

PROSPECTS: Excellent. More money for Bruce to spend next summer and talk of arrivals in the shape of Muzzy Izzet, Emile Heskey and Jesper Gronkjaer.

VERDICT: Good season of consolidation, with even talk of Europe for a spell. The platform is set for the push forward.


MIDDLESBROUGH (11th)

HIGHS: First major trophy when the Carling Cup was won with a 2-1 win against Bolton. Joy unconfined on Teesside.

LOWS: Early-season thrashing at home to Arsenal, which set the tone for a poor start that undermined hopes of getting into the top 10.

PLAYER: Gaizka Mendieta. Sheer class and looked a comfortable fit in the Premiershp and a real masterstroke in the market. Now Middlesbrough will ensure his name is on a long-term contract.

MANAGER: Steve McClaren turned his managerial promise into achievement with that piece of silverware. Shrewd, progressive and a man plotting a promising future.

PROSPECTS: The Uefa Cup awaits and with chairman Steve Gibson always willing to provide the financial backing, the future looks bright.

VERDICT: Success and a reasonable league placing - who can complain?


SOUTHAMPTON (12th)

HIGHS: The heavy beating of bitter rivals Portsmouth at St Mary's always goes down well - as does a victory against the old enemy in the Carling Cup.

LOWS: The departure of manager Gordon Strachan, who had done so much for the Saints, was a big loss to Southampton and the Premiership.

PLAYER: Antti Niemi. Outstanding Finnish goalkeeper who is arguably the best in the Premiership - may be a target for Arsenal in the close season.

MANAGER: New manager Paul Sturrock has a hard act to follow in Strachan and will use the summer to put his own stamp on the team.

PROSPECTS: Regular 30,000-plus crowds at St Mary's point to a sound basis to continued Premiership prosperity.

VERDICT: Sound. Unspectacular.


PORTSMOUTH (13th)

HIGHS: League win against Manchester United and the FA Cup fifth-round triumph against Liverpool. And of course those fans.

LOWS: Undignified end-of-season spat between manager Harry Redknapp and chairman Milan Mandaric over claims that assistant manager Jim Smith is to be sacked.

PLAYER: Aiyegbeni Yakubu. Finished with a flourish after an inconsistent start and scored the goals that kept Pompey in the Premiership.

MANAGER: Magnificent effort from Redknapp. Followed up the First Division championship with comfortable survival. One of the sharpest operators around.

PROSPECTS: Will depend on how long Redknapp and Mandaric can maintain their uneasy truce. If either leaves, troubled times may lie ahead.

VERDICT: Fantastic effort to survive and they did it in an attacking style that won many friends.


TOTTENHAM (14th)

HIGHS: Not too many. The arrival of Jermain Defoe and the battling point against Arsenal at White Hart Lane - says it all.

LOWS: The shocking FA Cup exit against Manchester City, when Spurs turned a 3-0 half-time lead into a 4-3 defeat.

PLAYER: Defoe. Top-class goal-poacher and a White Hart Lane star in the making.

MANAGER: The early sacking of Glenn Hoddle should have led to a permanent appointment. Instead caretaker David Pleat held the reins for the rest of the season in a farcical development. Conduct not befitting a serious club.

PROSPECTS: Who knows? Until the identity of the new manager is known it is difficult to plot the course but Defoe and Paul Robinson are excellent signings for the future.

VERDICT: Poor on the field. Even worse off it.


BLACKBURN (15th)

HIGHS: Vital win against Manchester United at home and the 4-3 win at Fulham that was the catalyst for safety.

LOWS: Early Uefa Cup exit and appalling home form, summed up by the defeat to Leeds that sparked genuine fears for Blackburn's Premiership safety. The serious injury to 7.5m Barry Ferguson was also another low point.

PLAYER: Jon Stead. Rangy young striker signed for 1.2m from Huddersfield, who settled instantly into the Premiership and scored the goals that kept Blackburn in the top-flight.

MANAGER: Turbulent season for Graeme Souness after qualifying for Europe. Had his share of bust-ups, particularly with Dwight Yorke. Will not settle for more of the same next term.

PROSPECTS: Ready to spend again, with Souness set to shuffle his pack to ensure there is no repeat performance.

VERDICT: Desperately disappointing. Must improve.


MANCHESTER CITY (16th)

HIGHS: The dramatic 4-3 FA Cup win at Spurs and the crushing 4-1 win against Manchester United.

LOWS: Shocking defending and a poor home record at the opulent new City of Manchester Stadium. The failure of Steve McManaman to show anything like his true form after signing from Real Madrid.

PLAYER: Shaun Wright-Phillips was a shining light in a season of gloom. He was always a pacy presence and confirmed his cult hero status with a spectacular strike against Manchester United.

MANAGER: Troubled season for Kevin Keegan, whose managerial life remains a rollercoaster. Missed part of the season after a back operation and although he insists he will not quit, he has problems to address.

PROSPECTS: Uncertain. Keegan will not have money to spend, Nicolas Anelka's future is under scrutiny and City must decide what to do about high-earning underachievers such as McManaman and Robbie Fowler.

VERDICT: Just not good enough.


EVERTON (17th)

HIGHS: Burst of three successive wins over Christmas that ultimately ensured survival.

LOWS: One away win and a dreadful end to the season that summed up a truly miserable campaign.

PLAYER: Nigel Martyn proved an outstanding purchase from Leeds and he more than any other player produced the performances that kept Everton in the Premiership.

MANAGER: David Moyes ended the season a shell-shocked manager. Still a cult hero to Everton's fans, who point the finger at a lack of support from the club's cash-starved hierarchy.

PROSPECTS: Grim unless a cash injection arrives. Will this force the departure of the golden boy Wayne Rooney? And what would Moyes make of that?

VERDICT: Desperate season after last term's resurgence.


LEICESTER CITY (18th)

HIGHS: Early crushing victory over Leeds United that hinted at better days ahead - days that did not come as the Foxes went down.

LOWS: The La Manga affair that shrouded the season and an incurable habit of conceding late goals that cost crucial points.

PLAYER: Muzzy Izzet. On his way now but can leave with his head held high after trying all he could to keep his beloved Leicester up.

MANAGER: Micky Adams performed admirably but was ultimately undone by a patchwork squad that was not good enough.

PROSPECTS: Matter of debate. There will be a major change in the squad before the start of next season in the First Division.

VERDICT: Not disgraced but, ultimately, found wanting.


LEEDS UNITED (19th)

HIGHS: Get the magnifying glasses out. Dramatic win against Fulham at Elland Road and the odd sign of life.

LOWS: Too numerous to mention. Crushing 6-1 defeat at Portsmouth that marked the end of Peter Reid's reign. The whole season qualifies as a low.

If Leeds were bad on the field, the performance off it was in a different league - as indeed the club will be next season.

PLAYER: Alan Smith was the outstanding performer in a dismal season. Lifelong Leeds fan who was reduced to public tears of despair when they went down at Bolton. Now on his way.

MANAGER: Take your pick from two lame ducks - Peter Reid and Eddie Gray. Neither had a chance because the damage was done behind the scenes.

PROSPECTS: Disastrous. Sky-high debts and best players on the way out. No guarantee of a swift return to the Premiership.

VERDICT: Arguably the most shameful decline in football history.


WOLVES (20th)

HIGHS: The victory over Manchester United that will give every Wolves fan hope for the future. Not forgetting the amazing comeback from three goals down to beat Leicester 4-3.

LOWS: Shambolic defending and a tendency to follow Leicester's trend and concede late goals.

PLAYER: Henri Camara. Quality striker who found his range too late. Wolves will be desperate to retain his services next season.

MANAGER: Dave Jones emerged with credit as his side improved as the season went on. He clearly carried his players with him and would have done better with more financial support last summer.

PROSPECTS: If the squad stays together and Jones is given power to add to it then they could be a good bet to bounce back next season.

VERDICT: Gallant but not good enough. Predictable end.





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