(CNN) -- Despite not kicking a ball, Arsenal were the biggest winners on Wednesday night as Chelsea drew 2-2 with Tottenham Hotspur in a game that football fans almost forgot.
This was the game in hand that both Chelsea and Spurs had long seen as decisive in their bid to finish in the Premier League's top four and so secure Champions League qualification -- but the long-awaited fixture was all but ignored for large parts of Wednesday.
The news earlier in the day that Sir Alex Ferguson was to step down as Manchester United manager after nearly 27 years in the job dominated the minds of football followers who would otherwise have been focusing on a decisive clash in West London.
As if to underline the point, both Chelsea boss Rafa Benitez and Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas found their usual pre-match interviews sidetracked by their thoughts on the Scot, who has amassed 38 trophies during his time with United.
Despite their differences over the years, Ferguson's long-standing rival Benitez -- who used to manage United's traditional rivals Liverpool -- was magnanimous in his praise for the 71-year-old.
"I have always liked to compete against him as a manager," the Spaniard, who may go down in history as the last coach to beat Ferguson following Chelsea's 1-0 win at Old Trafford on Sunday, told Sky Sports television.
"As a person, I wish him health in his retirement and I hope he enjoys his football in a different way."
Meanwhile, the Portuguese Villas-Boas, who was returning to his former club, said the EPL had lost one of its "most charismatic managers" and "the reference point in terms of coaches and being a successful manager".
Shortly after, it was back to work for the pair as both sides continued to work on the final chapters of a thrilling race to see who will secure a coveted Champions League berth for next season.
Hosts Chelsea knew that victory would all but guarantee them a place in the competition, which they won last year, while fifth-placed Spurs needed the three points to climb above great rivals Arsenal to ensure that their Champions League destiny is in their own hands.
Nonetheless, the draw played out best for the Gunners -- their 67 points one better than Spurs' tally -- with Arsenal knowing that victories in their remaining fixtures against Wigan (home) and Newcastle (away) will guarantee them a top-four finish.
Chelsea, who travel to Aston Villa on Saturday before finishing at home against Everton, started the Stamford Bridge clash the brighter, taking an early lead when the Brazilian Oscar converted Gary Cahill's flick-on from a tenth-minute corner.
The Blues continued to pour forward but were undone after 26 minutes when Emmanuel Adebayor, who has found goals hard to come by, ran 50 yards unchallenged before curling home from outside the area for his third Premier League strike of the season.
Ramires restored Chelsea's lead shortly before half-time as he finished off a sweeping move and the same player had the chance to kill off Spurs' Champions League hopes in the second half only to slip at the crucial moment after being teed up by Juan Mata.
With just 10 minutes left, substitute Gylfi Sigurdsson leveled for the visitors after a cute Adebayor backheel but despite a late free-kick from Gareth Bale, Spurs had to settle for a draw that may ultimately seem disappointing.
"It was good to get the point," Villas-Boas said later. "We have to do our job and hope that somebody else slips up. The Premier League is absolutely unpredictable and hopefully it can fall our way."
His side play at Stoke on Sunday before hosting Sunderland on 19 May, the final day of the EPL season, and are likely to need two victories to sneak into the Champions League places.
Such matters are of course trivial for Ferguson, who steered United to the Premier League title -- the 13th of his reign -- in his final season in charge, so securing yet another crack at Europe's best clubs for the three-time continental champions.
In Spain's La Liga, Real Madrid ensured that leaders Barcelona must wait a little while longer before sealing the championship.
Jose Mourinho's side thrashed nine-man Malaga 6-2 at the Bernabeu to reach 80 points for the season, eight behind Barca with only three games now left for Madrid.
Barcelona have a game in hand over their closest rivals (and defending champions), who shared their goals between six players -- with Cristiano Ronaldo, who missed a penalty, inevitably among those on the scoresheet.
Arguably the biggest news of the night came with the publication of the team line-ups, with defender Pepe - who has fallen out with Mourinho - absent from the squad.
"Pepe's absence is the decision of the manager," Raul Albiol, who replaced the Portuguese and opened the scoring, told Canal Plus.
"What we have to do is work and be united. We have three weeks left until the end of the season and we need to work until the end."
Earlier in the evening, Atletico Madrid guaranteed their place in next season's Champions League with a 3-1 win over Celta Vigo - a result that means they will finish the season in the top three.
The same reward for a hard season was achieved by Napoli in Italy, who secured the Serie A runner-up when beating Bologna 3-0.
Edinson Cavani stretched his lead atop the scoring charts to 27 goals as Napoli ensured they can no longer be caught by AC Milan, who sunk Pescara 4-0 to stay in the Champions League hunt.
Massimiliano Allegri's side face a nervous last two games of the season, at home to Roma and away to Siena, as they try to beat Fiorentina to third place in Italy, which guarantees a qualifying place in Europe's premier club competition.