Wenger’s men thumped Fulham 4-0, not only to finish an erratic season in style, but also secure an automatic place in the Champions League’s group stages next term – for the first time since Vieira and co finished as runners-up to Chelsea five seasons ago.
A third place finish was some gain today considering the extent of Arsenal’s run-in collapse which saw Tottenham – who were downed at Burnley anyway – with a sniff at above their neighbors.
The opening exchanges were all about goalkeepers with Arsenal’s Lukasz Fabianski looking shaky and Australia stopper Schwarzer pulling off fine saves to deny Van Persie and Arshavin. Schwarzer spoiled his good work, however, by gifting the north London side a 21st-minute lead.
He delayed a clearance and Arshavin nipped in to gain possession and, once the Russian had evaded Schwarzer’s desperate efforts to retrieve, his shot went in off Pantsil on the line.
Netherlands striker Van Persie doubled the lead five minutes later after Theo Walcott, who had burst through on the right thanks to Bacary Sagna’s through ball, unselfishly squared the ball for his colleague. Schwarzer managed to deflect the first shot on to the crossbar off his legs but the rebound fell perfectly for the Dutchman for a simple finish.
The west London side continued to live dangerously and they were grateful for a raised flag from a referee’s assistant to rule out a Walcott effort. A third Gunners goal arrived in the 37th minute as the Cottagers gave a master class in how not to defend.
England World Cup squad hopeful Walcott’s delivery from the right appeared to have little menace. However, two defenders managed to mis-kick attempted clearances and a third, Northern Ireland defender Baird, inexplicably put it into his own net.
Emmanuel Eboue had bamboozled Baird with a clever flick and produced another one to put Walcott through only for the winger to fire across goal and wide. Hodgson bolstered his attack at the break with David Elm replacing Bjorn Helge Riise and the newcomer hit a post within seconds, although the flag was up.
Van Persie then hit an upright at the other end on the rebound from another Schwarzer save. Pantsil hobbled off with a leg injury before the hour mark that could put his Europa League final hopes in jeopardy.
Arsenal centre-back Mikael Silvestre was next to be forced off and was replaced by Johan Djourou. USA striker Dempsey was booked and then substituted after failing to win a penalty as Sol Campbell challenged.
Then referee Mike Jones booked Eboue for diving and Fabianski for handling outside his area under pressure from Elm. Van Persie fired a good chance of his own making over the bar as the game meandered to its obvious conclusion.
Carlos Vela, who had replaced Arshavin with 13 minutes remaining, made it 4-0 in the 84th minute with a sublime chip after the offside trap had been sprung once again.