It has been a Premier League season like no other, but now the final curtain beckons for what has proven to be a blockbuster of thrills and twists, with the unlikeliest of heroes emerging at the climax.
24 years ago, as the world geared up for Premier League football, Leeds United were crowned as top flight champions against all the odds. Subsequently, football fans across Britain were left wondering if such a fairytale could ever be repeated, and it was Mike Walker’s ambitious Norwich City team that provided the answer.
Favourites for relegation ahead of the inaugural Premier League season of 1992/93, Norwich stood proudly atop the summit that Christmas, only to finish third. Despite the Canaries’ failure to secure Premier League glory, they enjoyed a strong run in the UEFA Cup the following season, and it was but a snippet of what could be achieved with a strong team ethic in lieu of vast resources.
With Leicester City’s triumph, sceptics of the Premier League and its values are now embracing a new era of unpredictability and excitement, with success coming only to those who are prepared to fight for it until their last breath.
1/2/3. Petr Cech, Hector Bellerin & Aaron Ramsey
Aston Villa (H)
It is a case of formalities first, as Arsenal close an eighteenth consecutive season of Champions League football against basement club Aston Villa – coincidentally the team against which they played in the first Premier League match at Ashburton Grove ten years ago.
A repeat of the 1-1 draw yielded that day is highly unlikely, and with neighbours Tottenham travelling to Newcastle, the Gunners have a golden opportunity to leapfrog their bitter rivals into second spot. Anything other than a win to nil would be a huge disappointment for Arsenal… and anything other than a five-course picnic would be a shock for Arsenal’s backline.
4/5. Erik Lamela & Son Heung-min
Less common picks for Tottenham, but their recent form has been impressive. Both players were statistically the best in their respective thirds of the pitch in GW37, and look well placed to make an impact at St James Park with second place still on the agenda.
Due to Sunderland’s midweek victory over Everton, Newcastle approach this game already consigned to Championship football, which gives this highly economic Tottenham duo an additional boost.
6. Dusan Tadic
Crystal Palace (H)
Alan Pardew’s beleaguered Crystal Palace simply cannot wait to hear the final whistle on what has been a an abysmal 2016 in the Premier League. An appearance in the FA Cup final is the sole redeeming feature of a tough year, and the Eagles will want to make certain that they emerge from this final game with no injuries or suspensions.
Along with Arsenal and Manchester United, Southampton are also candidates for a landslide win on the final day. Ronald Koeman has proven that his successful first season at St Mary’s was far from a fluke, and another high finish is in his sights.