Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has admitted that the long-running uncertainty over his future contributed to the Gunners failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in 20 years despite a 3-1 victory over Everton.
Commanding wins for Liverpool and Manchester City rendered Arsenal’s seventh success in eight Premier League matches, achieved courtesy of strikes from Hector Bellerin, Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey, irrelevant in the race for a top-four finish.
City steamrollered Watford 5-0 at Vicarage Road to secure third place, while Liverpool dispatched relegated Middlesbrough 3-0 to ensure a return to Europe’s top table, having been absent since the 2014-15 campaign.
Wenger, whose existing Arsenal deal expires this summer, has been dogged by questions over his contractual situation for months but refused to explore the reasons for a lack of clarity over his position, although made reference to unspecified off-field issues. He reiterated the situation “will be sorted out soon”.
“We played since January in a very difficult environment for different reasons, some obviously that you know about, and that is very difficult for a group of players to cope with,” said Wenger.
“There are some other reasons which we will talk about another day, but the psychological environment for the group of players was absolutely horrendous.” He added: “Certainly my personal situation has contributed to that.”
Arsenal ended the campaign in fifth place, their worst finish since 1996, which consigned them to a place in the Europa next term, although they maintained their end of the bargain by overpowering Everton.
The Gunners surged into an eighth minute lead when poor Tom Davies defending allowed Mesut Ozil to cross and low and, while Danny Welbeck made a hash of the initial tap in, Bellerin slammed home.
Arsenal’s bright start was tempered as referee Michael Oliver brandished a red card to skipper Laurent Koscielny following a mistimed lunge on West Ham loanee Enner Valencia. Koscielny will now miss Saturday’s FA Cup final against Chelsea.
Arsenal, however, doubled their advantage on 27 minutes as Sanchez’s long-range effort deflected into the path of Welbeck, while the Chilean was the quickest to react to convert the England striker’s square pass.
Everton replied through a Romelu Lukaku penalty as the hour mark approached before Ramsey settled matters in stoppage time with a sumptuous curling effort from the edge of the penalty area.
But the puzzle of top-four finishers had long been solved as goals from Georginio Wijnaldum, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana calmed palpable tension at Anfield.
“It is the best tournament in Europe. There is nothing better, maybe in the world,” said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. “The step is for us to be around the best teams in the world because we are one of the best clubs.”
Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola, whose side thrashed Watford thanks to a Sergio Aguero double and strikes from Vincent Kompany, Fernandinho and Gabriel Jesus, said: “We are satisfied we are in the Champions League, tomorrow we will think about what we need to do next season. Next season we will be better.”