By Richard Clarke
Arsenal completed an unbeaten home campaign for only the second time in their history with a 1-0 win over Everton at Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
Last term, Arsène Wenger's side lost only once at their new ground. This season they have been unbeaten in 28 matches in all competitions - something they have only achieved previously in season 1980-81.
To be honest, Arsenal were never in danger of losing this afternoon; Everton only needed a point for Uefa Cup qualification and they played for it. But the home side were little better and the game seemed certain to be goalless before Nicklas Bendtner thundered home a header with 13 minutes left.
The goal had been set up by Armand Traore, who had an excellent cameo after coming off the bench midway through the second half. The Frenchman came on at the same time as Jens Lehmann, who was given a chance to say goodbye to the fans he has served so well for five years. In his pre-match interview, Wenger had confirmed the German was "99 per cent" to leave in the summer.
This was a fitting farewell to an underrated player.
Before kick-off Cesc Fabregas collected his PFA Young Player of the Year award. The Spaniard was also celebrating his 21st birthday. It was a reminder that he may have been the mainstay of the Arsenal midfield but Fabregas is still a young man.
Ironically the former Barca player was omitted this afternoon as Wenger re-instated Gilberto in the centre. Robin van Persie was left out as a precaution after picking up a slight thigh problem at Derby. Adebayor, scorer of a second-half hat-trick at Pride Park, was paired up front with Bendtner. Denilson, Alex Song and Lukasz Fabianski retained their places.
Results on Saturday had taken much of the urgency from this game and it was all too evident early on. Manchester United's win over West Ham had ended Arsenal's faint title hopes while Wigan's win at Aston Villa had left Moyes' men needing a point from either of their last two games to secure qualification for the Uefa Cup.
Theo Walcott's right-foot curler went well past the far post but it was near as either side came in the opening quarter of an hour. Arsenal were territorially on top but had little to show for it. Gilberto sent a header equally wide of the other post as the Everton defence kept firm.
Toffees' backline has been their strength this season. Going into this game they had scored 20 less times than Arsenal but conceded the same amount, 31. It was easy to see why the Gunners' four goals at Goodison Park around Christmas time was as many as they had conceded in a single game all season.
To be honest the game was barely tepid until the 26th minute when Andy Johnson escaped in the right-hand channel. Fabianski kicked away his shot then Song hacked the ball behind when Steven Pienaar followed up. Phil Jagielka met the resulting corner with a firm header and Denilson had to clear off the line.
Seconds later Kolo Toure's raking back from right back was controlled in this stride by Adebayor but Tim Howard saved his prod at goal.
Suddenly we seemed to have a game on our hands.
Emmanuel Eboue appeared on the right of the area but Joseph Yobo did enough to deflect his low cross beyond the far post. Gilberto nodded wide from the corner. A minute from half time, the Brazilian sent another header over the bar.
In injury time Arsenal fashioned perhaps their clearest chance of the half. Eboue curled over an inviting cross from the right and Adebayor got in front of Yobo but steered his header wide.
The second half retained the same pace. Joleon Lescott nearly threaded a low cross into the heart of the Arsenal area then, at the other end, Gallas almost turned in the ball at the far post.
There was a sense that Arsenal would have to push the envelope. Everton knew they needed just a point in order to make sure of fifth. That said, that they were achieving about as much as the home side going forward. Tony Hibbert's low cross was well gathered by Fabianski as the visitors more than held their own as the second half wore on.
In the 68th minute, Wenger brought on Traore and Lehmann. The former needed the experience but the latter certainly did not. This was merely his opportunity to say goodbye. It is the kind of thing that only happens in end-of-season games and, in truth, it only added to the lacklustre feel.
But the introduction of Traore would turn the game. He slotted in on the left-hand side of the midfield and added some much needed urgency.
In the 77th minute, he made the opening goal with a high, hanging cross that was perfect for the head of the onrushing Bendtner. He crashed home his ninth goal of the season.
Walcott nearly waltzed in a second in the dying minutes and Traore fizzed an effort over the bar.
By now Everton had brought on two strikers, Yakubu and Victor Anchebe. But the closest they came to an equaliser was when Yobo hoiked a hopeless effort over the bar.
At full time captain Gallas cajoled Lehmann into saying his farewells to all four stands. A clean sheet was a fitting send off for him and a 1-0 win was perhaps the traditional way to complete another decent campaign at Emirates Stadium.
- Fabianski 70
- Toure 70
- Bendtner Goal!
- Adebayor 88
- Lehmann 70
- Traore 70
- Senderos 88
- Lescott Yellow Card
- Carsley 81
- Johnson 81
- Yakubu 81
- Anichebe 81