Premier League grades: Chelsea, Leeds, Man City top of the class as Arsenal flounder

It was an unusual season in the Premier League due to COVID-19, but we reached the finish line. Man City were crowned champions, Man United, Liverpool and Chelsea will join them in the Champions League, and Sheffield United, West Bromwich Albion and Fulham suffered relegation. There was also great disappointment at Arsenal and Spurs, unexpected European qualifiers in West Ham, four managerial changes and even an all-English Champions League final, won by Chelsea.

With the dust and drama now settled, Ian Darke takes a closer look at each Premier League club and grades them for their performance over the 2020-21 campaign.

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Arsenal: A run of five straight wins to close the campaign can't mask another very disappointing season for the Gunners. An eighth-place finish means no European football for the first time in 25 years, which will serve as a huge blow to the finances and reputation of the famous club. Mikel Arteta will not survive another year like this, while fans continue to hope absentee owner Stan Kroenke sells the club or finances some major signings to change the mood. Grade: D+

Aston Villa: An early 7-2 win over Liverpool served notice that Villa were a different proposition this season. Aided by Jack Grealish's magic and 14 goals from Ollie Watkins in his debut Premier League season, Dean Smith's team were lively in attack and tough enough in defence for a comfortable midtable finish. Can they fight off transfer interest in Grealish again? Grade: B+

Brighton & Hove Albion: Graham Potter's side were often a delight to watch, but still battled relegation for most of the season. A league-high 14 draws and a failure to convert chances held them back, though keeper Robert Sanchez, and defenders Lewis Dunk, Adam Webster and Ben White, made them hard to beat. Midfielder Yves Bissouma is a target for bigger clubs and they definitely need to find a goal poacher. Grade: B-

Burnley: Recovered well from a dreadful start once they got key players fit again and, despite finishing 17th, they were 11 points clear of relegation. The unquestioned highlight of the season came in January when they improbably ended Liverpool's 68-game unbeaten run at Anfield thanks to a late Ashley Barnes penalty. It remains to be seen if a low-key takeover will change things at a club who look to be staying afloat as long as Sean Dyche is there to keep this band of brothers together. Grade: C

Chelsea: Produced an inspired tactical performance to foil Man City in the Champions League final. It rather looks as if, for the moment at least, Thomas Tuchel has Pep Guardiola's number: that was his third win over City in six weeks. Only an FA Cup final defeat to Leicester City blotted Tuchel's stellar start at Stamford Bridge. Grade: A

Crystal Palace: The security and stability that the departing Roy Hodgson brought to Palace was reflected in a comfortable 14th-place finish. Wilfried Zaha scored a career-best 11 goals and new arrival Eberechi Eze added much-needed flair. With 11 players out of contract and a new boss to be appointed, it will be a very different-looking Eagles side next season. Grade: C

Everton: Started like an express train with Dominic Calvert-Lewin scoring every week, but nine home defeats killed their European ambitions and the season tailed off in anticlimactic fashion with a 10th-place finish. There is still a feeling that Carlo Ancelotti is taking the club in the right direction, but the pressure will intensify next season. Grade: C+

Fulham: Often looked talented enough to escape (they won at Liverpool and Leicester), but they could not score for love nor money at Craven Cottage (nine home goals is a pathetic record low). Manager Scott Parker won more friends than points, even though defender Joachim Andersen was a magnificent loan signing from Lyon. Would be no surprise to see this likable club bounce back and get promoted again after a year in the Championship. Grade: D+

Leeds United: Turbocharged football under Marcelo Bielsa made it a thrilling return for Leeds to the top flight after a 16-year absence. Their 62 goals scored was a record for a promoted team, while among English strikers, only Harry Kane scored more than Patrick Bamford's 17, which ranked fourth in the division. Stuart Dallas mopped up the player of the year awards for his versatility and excellence, and Bielsa has agreed to return for another season. They're lovable Leeds now! Grade: A-

Leicester City: Despite blowing their top-four chances for a second successive season, a first-ever FA Cup win made this a season Foxes' fans will never forget. Youri Tielemans scored one of the great Wembley goals and is assured of his place in Leicester folklore. Nine home defeats and a long injury list proved costly in the end, but Brendan Rodgers has this club in a good position. Grade: B+

Liverpool: Devastated by long-term injuries to their top three centre-backs, the champions imploded in midseason with an unheard-of six successive Anfield defeats. It is to Jurgen Klopp's credit that he managed to salvage a third-place finish thanks to a 10-game unbeaten run at the end, highlighted by goalkeeper Alisson's emotional and improbable winner at West Brom. With Virgil van Dijk back, Liverpool are capable of being their old selves next season, though a couple of signings (to add to Ibrahima Konate) are needed to freshen things up. Grade: B-

Manchester City: Claimed another two trophies this season, including a runaway triumph in the Premier League. Some of their football was sublime, but they were just not themselves in the final they most wanted to win, and so the Champions League remains agonisingly beyond them. Why did Pep Guardiola change a winning formula in the final? Grade: A-

Manchester United: Defeat in the Europa League final, a game they were expected to win, will leave Ole Gunnar Solskjaer & Co. with an empty, frustrated feeling. They've now gone four years without a trophy, and despite an encouraging second-place showing in the Premier League, United are still some way short of a return to the glory years. Should go for Harry Kane and Declan Rice. Grade: B

Newcastle United: After looking like relegation candidates for most of the season, the Toon staged a big recovery to finish 12th thanks in large to the return of attackers Allan Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson. Steve Bruce also pulled off the loan signing of the year as relative unknown Joe Willock arrived from Arsenal and scored in seven successive games. Newcastle could be an elite club in waiting if unpopular owner Mike Ashley sells. Grade: C+

Sheffield United: Last season's champagne turned into very flat beer as they occupied bottom place all season and sacked Chris Wilder, the manager who had guided them to the top flight and oversaw last year's heroics. With no Bramall Lane crowds, the players could never hit the same heights and lost confidence. Young striker Rhian Brewster cost £20 million from Liverpool, but he failed to score all season. Grade: D-

Southampton: What went wrong? The Saints were flying and top of the table briefly in November, yet ultimately finished 15th. Ralph Hasenhuttl's team had to endure another 9-0 drubbing, this time to Manchester United. It is vital that they hold on to striker Danny Ings and stop mixing slick football with flaky defending. Seemed to develop the nasty habit of finding ways to lose. Grade: C-

Tottenham Hotspur: One of the worst seasons in their modern history, as Spurs finished outside the top six for the first time in 12 years. The Jose Mourinho experiment backfired and Harry Kane, Golden Boot winner for a third time, wants out. They need to make an inspired managerial appointment this summer -- but with potentially no Kane and only the new Europa Conference League to offer, who will they be able to get? Grade: D-

West Bromwich Albion: Relegated from the Premier League for a fifth time. Even the arrival of Sam Allardyce, who replaced Slaven Bilic after 13 games, was to no avail. A sensational 5-2 win at Chelsea was the high point, but the Baggies conceded a league-high 76 goals. They will have a hard time holding on to their wonderful Brazilian playmaker Matheus Pereira. Grade: D-

West Ham United: The 2021 season was a comeback concert for David Moyes as he led the Hammers into Europe with an excellent sixth-place finish. Declan Rice led by example, Michail Antonio was a consistent threat when fit, and Jesse Lingard's brilliance on loan from Manchester United gave them an added spark. Finally, the Czech mates Vladimir Coufal and Tomas Soucek have proven to be top signings, as has veteran defender Craig Dawson. Grade: A

Wolverhampton Wanderers: The end of an era. Fate conspired against them this time, as they had no goal threat without Diogo Jota or Raul Jimenez, who fractured his skull at Arsenal. Even the midfield axis of Joao Moutinho-Ruben Neves has started to look a little laboured. It was only a mild surprise when the club parted company with coach Nuno Espirito Santo, though he did a wonderful job in establishing the Old Gold back in the top flight. Without the sufficient spending, they might struggle next season. Grade: C-