By Richard Clarke
Arsenal ensured that the race for the fourth and final Champions League place will go to the last day of the season with a 3-1 victory at Manchester City on Thursday evening.
The result means that Arsène Wenger's side are now a point short of Tottenham with only one game left to play.
After a sluggish start this game burst into life midway trough the first half when Thierry Henry cleverly set up Freddie Ljungberg to score his first Premiership goal of the season. David Sommeil smuggled home an equaliser just before the break and the second half was a pacy, edgy end-to-end affair before two late goals from substitute Jose Antonio Reyes settled the Arsenal nerves and secured a full three points.
Wigan visit Highbury on Sunday while Tottenham must visit West Ham. It would be fitting if the "Final Salute" for Arsenal's home of 93 years is the scene of success.
We can only win ourselves and then keep our fingers crossed.
Wenger made six changes from the side that had swept aside Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Monday. Ashley Cole came in for his first start since October 2 alongside Freddie Ljungberg, Robin van Persie, Alex Hleb, Alex Song and Gilberto. Abou Diaby, Emmanuel Adebayor, Robert Pires, Cesc Fabregas and Gael Clichy missed out.
The game was barely luke-warm in the first 20 minutes. The closest we came to a goal was when Song put Van Persie free. The Dutchman hit the bar but he had already been flagged offside by the time the woodwork rattled.
At the opposite end, Georgios Samaras raced clear up the left flank in the 21st minute but Sol Campbell thundered back to block.
There really was not that much quality about - until Arsenal took the lead on the half-hour. Henry controlled a difficult pass and fought to retain it before tucking a delicious reverse pass through for Ljungberg. The Swede took a touch and steered home his first Premiership goal since last April.
A few minutes later Van Persie sent Eboue sprinting up the right but his cross did not reach Henry.
It seemed that Arsenal were set to dominate. But it did not work out like that. In the 38th minute, Joey Barton swung a corner to the far post, Trevor Sinclair nodded it back into the area and the stumbling Sommeil scrambled the ball home from close range.
Suddenly we had a game - tackles were flying and the pace was doubled.
However Arsenal carved out the better chances before the break. An unmarked Campbell nodded wide at the near post, Hleb's cut back could not be converted by Henry and, most notably, the French striker combined wonderfully with Van Persie before steering a sidefoot shot just wide of the far upright.
Van Persie might have restored Arsenal's lead within seconds of the restart but James saved well from his sidefoot shot.
But Manchester City came out seemingly determined to end a run of four successive home defeats. The peppered the Arsenal area and the visiting defence began the creak under the pressure.
However Wenger's side knew they had to win to retain a realistic chance of finishing fourth. Van Persie's cross-shot was tipped aside by the diving David James, Henry sent an acrobatic overhead kick just wide and Ljungberg hit the base of the post with the home keeper floundering.
In the 65th minute, Hleb let fly from distance and the ball seemed headed for the top corner only for James to divert the ball over the bar at the last second. However, a minute later, Jens Lehmann made an equally fine save from Richard Dunne's header. The German No 1 also tipped a header from Micah Richards over the bar with 20 minutes left.
Just after that Wenger threw on his final two substitutes, Pires and Reyes. He brought on Fabregas, on his 19th birthday, 15 minutes earlier. Pires immediately thumped a shot at James and then Henry curled a free-kick to the left of the keeper.
At this point, with 12 minutes left, Arsenal were energetic, ambitious, anxious and desperate in equal measure.
Then they scored.
Pires sent Eboue roaring up the right and he cut the ball back just before it reached the byline. Reyes opened up his body to steer a sidefoot shot towards the far post. It somehow bobbled out of James' grasp and trickled into the corner.
If there was an element of good fortune about that strike, the third was class. Henry showed the pace of a sprinter on the left flank and the feet of a tap dancer to evade the Manchester City defence in the area. He squared the ball to Reyes, who lifted a curling shot high into the top corner of the net.
It was a fitting conclusion to a great game.
With a bit of luck Sunday will a fitting conclusion to a great stadium as well.
- Song 58
- Ljungberg Goal!
- Hleb 71
- Persie 71
- Fabregas 58
- Pires 71
- Reyes 71 Goal! Goal!
- Dunne Yellow Card
- Sommeil Goal!
- Sinclair 76
- Riera 82 Yellow Card
- Vassell Yellow Card
- Flood 82
- Croft 76