Football

Arsenal scrape into Champions League

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Wenger was smiling in the end (©GettyImages)
Wenger was smiling in the end (©GettyImages).

Arsenal secured their spot in next year’s Champions League with a laboured win over a spirited West Brom side, playing their final game under Roy Hodgson.

Three mistakes by stand-in goalkeeper Marton Fulop handed the Gunners the win they needed to finish third, but the Baggies took them to the wire by coming from behind to lead in the first 15 minutes.

The new England manager will have his time at The Hawthorns declared a success, but his last game with the Midlands club will most likely prove to be a source of frustration as they could have won the game.

Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger’s players can breathe a massive sigh of relief as another below par performance left them biting their nails in stoppage time.

It was a farewell fixture for the north Londoners too with assistant manager Pat Rice retiring after 44 years of service to the club - the former full-back was raised on to the shoulders of the celebrating players at the end.

Wenger had said his team’s entire season came down to this trip and the players had no choice but to stand up and be counted on a day where it was all or nothing.

However, it was Fulop who was counted most prominently in the fourth minute when he came to collect a loose ball on the edge of his area. He came too far, however, and had to wait for the ball to enter the 18-yard box but his hesitation was pounced on by Yossi Benayoun and the on-loan midfielder rolled it into the empty net.

Arsenal have been shaky at the back all season but were remonstrating with the assistant referee for West Brom’s equaliser in the 11th minute.

James Morrison played the ball through to Shane Long, who appeared to be a couple of yards offside, and he slotted the ball home past Wojciech Szczesny.

It went from bad to worse for Wenger four minutes later when Morrison strode forward unchallenged in midfield to clip a ball forward to Graham Dorrans, who had far too much space to chest down between Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen, but his shot form the edge of the area was accurate and Arsenal’s number one could not stop it going past him.

It was quite a turnaround and the Gunners looked shocked, but Fulop was on hand to let them back into the game. The Hungarian was making his first Premier League appearance of the season as a replacement for the injured Ben Foster.

It showed once more on the half hour as Andre Santos, in for Kieran Gibbs, shot from 20 yards and Fulop could only help it on its way into the near post, despite getting a full hand on it.

Fulop bettered his first half blunders for haplessness nine minutes after half-time when he flapped at a Robin van Persie corner, which should have been a simple catch, and Koscielny was on hand to tap home form three yeards.

It was a piece of fortune for the Gunners and they tried to close the game down for the win, but this is not their style and full-back Billy Jones popped up on the left hand side of the area with just Szczesny to beat in second half injury time.

It took an incredible block from Gibbs to deny Jones and it ended up being a decisive intervention as the game petered out to put Arsenal in the Champions League.

Wenger has done an incredible job to drag his side from 17th in September to third on the last day, but the manner of this win highlighted many of the problems that will need fixing during the summer.

Arsenal can now prepare for next year with certainty.

Topics:
Arsenal
West Bromwich Albion
Football
Premier League
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