By Richard Clarke
Arsenal have finished fourth in the Premiership once again after seeing out their season with a goalless draw at Portsmouth on Sunday.
Julio Baptista spurned the visitors' best chance to take all three points when he saw his 40th-minute penalty superbly turned aside by David James. Portsmouth poured forward in the latter stages trying to grab the goal that might put them into Europe for the first time.
However results elsewhere did not go their way. The same thing could be said of Arsene Wenger's side. They seemed set to finish third until Harry Kewell scored a last-minute penalty for Liverpool at Anfield.
Still, fourth place does secure Champions League football next season and it was completed without the nailbiting drama of last term.
Wenger made wholesale changes for the final game of the season. Emmanuel Adebayor failed to recover from his groin injury while Tomas Rosicky (hamstring) was already ruled out. Gilberto and Jens Lehmann were rested so Manuel Almunia was set to play. However the Spaniard suffered a knock in training so Mart Poom stepped in to make his Premiership debut for Arsenal.
In a serious switcharound, Kolo Toure moved into central midfield and Emmanuel Eboue began in front of Justin Hoyte on the right. Abou Diaby lent support to Julio Baptista.
The total experience of Arsenal's bench - Vito Mannone, Matthew Connolly, Kieran Gibbs, Joe O'Cearuill and Mark Randall - was one Carling Cup start and three substitute appearances.
Walking into Fratton Park before kick-off you feared a repeat of last season's cancelled fixture. Yet again, rain had drenched the South Coast for the visit of Wenger's side. However referee Graham Poll gave the pitch the all-clear 90 minutes before kick-off and by 3pm the skies were clear and the rain had relented.
Portsmouth started the game with the urgency you would expect from a side hoping to secure a European place for the first time.
In the fifth minute, Nico Kranjcar cut the ball back from the byline and Sean Davis steered a first-time shot past the far post.
However the visitors soon stole the initiative. Gael Clichy stormed into the area and his drive deflected off Noe Pamarot and over David James. The ball seemed certain to drift inside the far post before Djimi Traore popped up and scooped the ball aside.
Soon afterward Baptista's thumping drive ricocheted off James and bounced over the bar.
Kranjcar responded for Portsmouth then Kanu shuffled into space on the edge of the area before forcing a flying save from Poom. In between those chances, Cesc Fabregas floated over a free-kick from the left hand side and an unmarked Baptista nodded wide when he scored have scored.
The Brazilian was having one of those games where everything fell at his feet. Whether it went in was another matter. Five minutes before half time, Eboue was tripped by Linvoy Primus and Baptista was handed the responsibility from the spot. His penalty was firm and well-directed. However he was facing a keeper who had picked up multiple Player of the Season Awards before kick-off. James thrust out a hand to superbly tip the ball over the bar.
It was a penalty that had been saved more than it had been missed.
Baptista nearly made amends within seconds of the restart but James blocked his drive, then Hleb went through and shot into the side netting. Kanu replied with a deflected shot that was well held by Poom.
As the half wore on it became obvious who had more incentive to win the game. In the 68th minute Portsmouth thought they had stolen the lead. Benjani cracked a shot at Poom who spilled the ball at the feet of Richard Hughes. His shot was saved by the Estonian but the rebound was snaffled home by Kranjcar. He wheeled away in triumph but, after consulting with his assistant, Graham Poll disallowed the goal, presumably for offside.
Kranjcar and Tresor Lua-Lua continued to pepper the Arsenal goal in a frantic finale. The home crowd were desperate for a winner as news filtered round of important scores elsewhere.
It ended in disappointment for both sides but, at the same time, neither had much complain about.
Referee: Graham Poll
Copyright 2023 The Arsenal Football Club Limited. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.