The best campaign in a couple of decades of underachievement. Few were tipping us for the top four, so there’s no shame in being the only club to challenge City’s dominance – particularly impressive given the continued absence of a deterrent against financial doping. There’s no escaping the sense, though, that we might be waiting a long time for a better title-winning opportunity, given our lack of cup and European distractions at the business end. The test now for Mikel Arteta is whether he can improve the squad depth enough for us to arrive in the finishing straight looking less burned out next season. 9/10
Stars/flops Ramsdale, Ødegaard, Saka, Martinelli, Saliba and Zinchenko starred, but really it was a team effort. The only letdown was Vieira’s failure to grasp his opportunities. Fábio’s body language doesn’t exactly scream hunger and desire, but I’m not about to write him off just yet.
Biggest surprise I’ve been saying for years that we wouldn’t achieve top four so long as Xhaka remained at our fulcrum. But with Partey protecting the defence Granit moved into a more advanced role and became everybody’s darling. He saved his best season to last.
Best/worst away fans Best were Bodø/Glimt, despite their loss. Worst? Always Spurs. Most of them were out the door long before the final whistle.
Moments that made me smile Tony Adams on Strictly; Emiliano Martínez’s Villa own goal; Conte’s meltdown press conference; and Newcastle 6-Spurs 1.
Since November the season has been beyond any realistic dreams. The style and the effectiveness of our football have been a delight and the strategy and tactics from a different textbook entirely. “Unai Emery” could be my first tattoo at 51 (sorry, wife and kids). He’s brought a fractured club together, taught new tricks to senior dogs like Mings and McGinn, and been beautifully humble throughout. A demonstration that hard work and great coaching can achieve almost anything. I’m very confident we’ll squeak into Europe today but, either way, the 90 versus Newcastle and the two first halves against Spurs and Liverpool will never be forgotten. Just wow. 9/10
Stars/flops Douglas Luiz rightly won player of the year despite starting only two of the first seven games. Tyrone Mings ran him very close having been dropped in August. If you want a flop, then it’s the former manager. The list of heroes is long. Ramsey, Martínez, Watkins, McGinn – I could go on naming players with 8+/10 seasons.
Biggest surprise The change in mood. Emery mentions the “connection” with the supporters in every interview. Performances and this all-for-one spirit have aligned perfectly and the fusion is complete. Today’s Villa Park will be electric, and win or lose it will be a love-in – a mile away from the mostly bored, sometimes poisonous atmosphere last autumn.
Best/worst away fans Everton best, Fulham worst. But really they’re all the same (and so are we) – sing when you’re winning, yawn when you’re not.
Moment that made me smile All the players apparently shouting: “Don’t shoot,” at Bertrand Traoré in the 87th minute at Leicester, just before he smashed it into the top corner.
• Jonathan Pritchard
We survived. Job done. And barely anyone but us Cherries supporters thought we would. In a season where we were the first team to change our coach, were bought by a new owner, suffered a record-equalling 9-0 defeat and couldn’t get a point for an eternity after the World Cup, that’s an incredible success. Gary O’Neil and his team deserve high praise. We’re very conscious that he lacks experience, and in many games we’ve seen him learning painfully on the job – often, it’s not been pretty. But we got there in the end, and we’re looking forward to another top-flight season. 6/10
Stars/flops Stars: Jefferson Lerma, Marcus Tavernier, Phil Billing, Neto and Dom Solanke. But everyone worked their socks off. Flops: Ryan Fredericks and Junior Stanislas were both too injury-prone and barely played.
Biggest surprise The impact of new owner Bill Foley: ambitious, outgoing and positive. He’s building on the substantial legacy of Max Denim.
Best/worst away fans Arsenal never stopped singing that Saliba song. The worst were Everton, abusing their own players and nearly starting a fight with some of them after the game.
Moment that made me smile Our club social media team produced an end-of-season video compilation of all the pundits saying we would get relegated. What do so-called experts know, eh?
• Jeff Hayward Back of the Net podcast; @afcbpodcast
It’s been magnificent. I predicted, maybe optimistically, that we’d finish a place higher than last season’s 13th. Never did I think we’d thrash United, comfortably beat Liverpool, Chelsea and Spurs, and be the only team to best City on their own patch. We’re still in with a shout of Europe with one game to go, so I can forgive our terrible cup runs. You know Thomas Frank is doing a grand job when the so-called big boys come sniffing. As the song goes, he knows exactly what we need. 9/10
Stars/flops Ivan Toney has been the undoubted star, but Brian Mbeumo has come into his own since Toney’s absence. Ben Mee and Ethan Pinnock have been incredible at the back; Rico Henry is arguably the best left-back in the country but constantly gets overlooked for an England call-up. Flops? It’s hard to pick holes but, if I had to, Frank “the Tank” Onyeka hasn’t quite fulfilled his potential.
Biggest surprise Beating Man City in their own backyard. We deserved it, too. I also didn’t foresee pundit Micah Richards finally backing down and admitting we were a decent team after coating us all last season. Fair play.
Best/worst away fans Gillingham brought loads, sang loads and celebrated their League Cup shootout win like they’d won the final. The Priestfield was one of my first away games in the 80s. It’s hard to believe we were close rivals who used to play each other every season since then, until 10 years ago. Fulham were the worst, walking out on 85 minutes when we went 3-1 up, missing Vinícius making it 3-2. A real disrespect to their players. It wasn’t as if they had far to go home either. Weird.
Moment that made me smile Bees fans chanting “Daniel Levy we want you to stay” during the 3-1 victory at Spurs. See also “Frank Lampard we want you to stay” at Stamford Bridge.
Incredible, we’re the luckiest fans in the world. Our best-ever finish, Europe for the first time, breathtaking football, a manager hailed by Guardiola as “one of the most influential in the last 20 years” and our owner, Tony Bloom, a lifelong fan who has given all the staff a 20% bonus. Brilliant, just brilliant. 10/10
Stars/flops Roberto De Zerbi is a genius, he’s motivated the whole city – we’ve got loads more and better songs, and the Amex is rocking. It’s heartwarming to see so many youngsters thriving and stalwarts such as Lewis Dunk and Solly March playing out of their skins. Even when we sell players another star pops up. What a time to be alive. Nobody flopped: there probably isn’t one player who hasn’t enjoyed their best season – and it feels as if there is a lot more to come.
Biggest surprise Potter going to Chelsea. Why leave such a well-run outfit for such a shambles? Also, the sheer resilience has been eye-opening: bouncing back from losing 5-1 at home to Everton by beating Arsenal 3-0 at the Emirates was quite something.
Best and worst away fans The best were the City fans who clapped Julio Enciso’s wonder goal before it hit the net. The worst? Entertaining Palace gets more stressful and unpleasant every season, obnoxious lot.
Moment that made me smile Putting six past Wolves on my 60th birthday. And the club’s De Zerbi cam on YouTube that follows him on the touchline: he’s all whistling, gestures and knee slides.
• Steph Fincham
An absolute shocker that nobody saw coming. League form was a shambles; it was only the performances in Europe that saved us from total disaster. Sacking Tuchel so early was ridiculous; Potter looked good to oversee a long-term project but couldn’t manage a large squad, find his best XI or find a way through so many injuries; and Lampard was clearly hired to appease fans and put players in the shop window: there’s no other explanation for some of his team selections. 4/10
Stars/flops It’s hard to pick stand-out players, but Thiago Silva was great and Kepa made big saves. Cucurella was the chief flop, constantly out of position, a £62m headless chicken. Hopefully a new manager can sort him out.
Biggest surprise The scale of the implosion, aided by a mad transfer policy and replacing the whole structure from the medical teams to the boardroom – it all felt like a strange business strategy from people who are supposed to be experts in their field. It tore the heart out of the club.
Best/worst away fans Dinamo Zagreb, all in black, made an impression. The worst were West Ham: a sea of flat caps and crossed arms. Not a good look.
Moment that made me smile Amid the gloom, Spurs, as usual, didn’t let us down. Conte’s press conference where he ripped his squad apart telling the world what we all knew was pure box office. Once a blue, always a blue.
• Paul Baker in memory of Trizia Fiorellino
It’s a 7.5/10 season of two halves. All Palace fans wanted Patrick Vieira to succeed but there was just no way back for him from the dismal cup campaigns, the run of games without a win or a shot, the joylessness and the collapse in confidence of our flair players. Roy Hodgson’s impact has been immediate: wonderful, attacking football with a team full of freedom to play to their potential and score for fun.
Stars/flops It’s just a matter of time before Marc Guéhi becomes a mainstay of England’s defence. Michael Olise, Cheick Doucouré and Jordan Ayew all impressed, and then there’s Eberechi Eze: a broken man in his substitute appearance at Brighton in March, but just two months later he’s in the England squad. Édouard and Mateta still aren’t convincing up front, though.
Biggest surprise The return of Roy. At the time it felt like his comeback represented the failure of a project that fans had bought into – a new style and new generation. That it took Roy and Ray Lewington to make it click was something no one saw coming.
Best/worst away fans Man United were loud. Everton were silent.
Moment that made me smile The ecstatic, unbridled celebrations at Selhurst when Mateta scored the winner against Leicester with the last kick. It was the end of a terrible run, and a win in Roy’s first game. Perfection.
• Chris Waters @Clapham_Grand
Quite the most disastrous season. Everything that could go wrong has. A squad bereft of goals and with a suspect defence was always going to struggle. Lampard was inexplicably retained by Moshiri and the board after an aggregate two-game league and cup 7-1 loss to Bournemouth before the World Cup – and they compounded that decision by not firing him until late January. Dyche has improved results, and our destiny remains in our control, but to even be in this position says everything about the appalling manner in which the club has been run in the Moshiri era. However, a vociferous bear pit at Goodison today will see the fans dragging the club over the line for the second successive season. 1/10
Stars/flops Pickford has excelled and, in my opinion, is the best keeper in the league by some distance. Honourable mention to McNeil in recent weeks. Too many flops, Maupay particularly.
Biggest surprise The board’s decision to vilify their own fanbase, and the regular feed of pro-board, anti-fan messages in favoured print media.
Best/worst away fans Brighton were best, great to see a club being rewarded for doing things well. Newcastle fans the worst, for just being Newcastle fans.
Moment that made me smile Has to be Ben Godfrey winding up Haaland at the Etihad. Haaland lost it and ran away after a crude tackle on Mykolenko.
Many “experts” tipped us for relegation, so a comfortable 10th is superb. Marco Silva alone deserves 10/10 – with maybe half a point docked for those Old Trafford shenanigans.
Stars/flops Most have improved immeasurably under Silva (and Boa Morte), notably Tim Ream and Kenny Tete, and the team ethic and spirit was evident from the off as we gave Liverpool a real fright. João Palhinha patrolled midfield magnificently, Bernd Leno kept goal with authority, Andreas Pereira and Willian added application to their skills. Few disappointed, but Mbabu and Chalobah didn’t shine. Top of the flops has to be the appalling use of VAR (Variously Applied Rules). So much for “clear and obvious”; and so much for a coherent and uniform approach. Ironically, the plethora of camera angles has just served to highlight the different assessments of similar incidents, often on the same day.
Biggest surprise Was our squad being so competitive. Newcastle and Arsenal were setbacks, but otherwise we were a match for anyone. And that included City, who needed some generous interpretations of the rules in both games. Less surprising, alas, is the hike in ticket prices for next season at a time when many are finding it tough.
Best/worst away fans Sunderland fans made a lot of noise. Villa’s didn’t.
Moment that made me smile Finishing above Chelsea for the first time since 1983, aided by Carlos Vinícius’s headed winner against them at the Cottage. Having initially struggled as Mighty Mitro’s stand-in, he grew in confidence after that cult-hero moment.
• David Lloyd @DMLTOOFIF
People could write studies on how Leeds surged to the top, threatening to gatecrash the established elite with a thrilling team, only to throw it all away in two short seasons. Or they can just update the studies already written on Leeds United 2002-2004 with new chapters about blowing it again, in 2021‑2023. Nothing about Marcelo Bielsa makes it impossible for a club to build upon what he leaves, but everything about the way Leeds have been run has ruined what he did for us. The board hired the wrong coach, Jesse Marsch, then bought the wrong players for the wrong tactics. I don’t think it’s coincidence that we’re going down with Southampton, both looking at our Red Bull playbooks with buyer’s remorse. Even if we stay up today – it’s unlikely! – that won’t disguise the failure. 0/10
Stars/flops Wilf Gnonto turned out to be a wonderkid, only signed on deadline day with the club in a flap after loaning Dan James to Fulham to make room for Cody Gakpo (lol). Tyler Adams was good enough, and if he wasn’t injured we might have got to safety. Lots of flops, but Weston McKennie redefined letdown.
Biggest surprise This season is absolute trademark Leeds United Football Club. Not surprised by any of it.
Best and worst away fans Palace were best, because they seemed too surprised about winning 5-1 to gloat much. Manchester City were humdrum.
Moment that made me smile A power surge knocked out VAR comms just after kick-off against Arsenal at Elland Road. Twenty minutes of blissful lo-tech confusion followed. Switching it off then on again was as good a tactic as any Leeds tried this season.