By Rob Kelly at Emirates Stadium
Olivier Giroud’s 22nd goal of the season was enough for Arsenal to secure victory in their final game of the season at Emirates Stadium.
The Gunners’ 18th successive top-four place had been sealed a day earlier when Everton lost to Manchester City, meaning Arsene Wenger’s side could relax in the Sunday sun.
In a low-key first half, the Gunners took a 14th-minute lead when Giroud met Santi Cazorla’s corner with a firm header and directed it beyond Ben Foster. It was the striker’s eighth goal in his last seven appearances at the Emirates.
There was an unmistakeable end-of-season feeling to proceedings, although whenever the hosts upped the tempo they looked dangerous. Indeed, Cazorla came close to extending their advantage before the interval with a low shot that was pushed around the post by Foster.
Chances remained at a premium after the break until midway through the half when Mesut Ozil poked one effort wide, swiftly followed by a Lukas Podolski strike that hit the post.
They could not add to the scoreline, but they did not need to as they claimed their fourth win on the bounce and maintained momentum ahead of the FA Cup final on May 17.
It was a job well done, and a good way to end a highly-encouraging season at Emirates Stadium. Next stop Carrow Road, and then Wembley.
Bring it on.
SETTING THE SCENE
The big news of the day was the presence of Abou Diaby in the squad for the first time in more than 13 months. It has been a long, hard road back for the France international, but his place on the bench was reward for all those hours in rehab, in the gym and on the training ground.
Elsewhere, Wenger made one change to his side for the visit of the Baggies with Mathieu Flamini replacing Aaron Ramsey. The Wales international missed out with a minor thigh injury.
Free from pressure and with FA Cup final places up for grabs, this was the perfect opportunity for Arsenal to turn on the style at the Emirates for the final time this season.
The Gunners certainly started with a sense of freedom, and there were just four minutes on the clock when Lukas Podolski fired just past the near post after good work from Giroud.
It was a portent of things to come as Wenger’s side poured forward at will during the opening exchanges.
Soon afterwards, Cazorla’s shot from the edge of the area was deflected just over the bar. But from the resulting corner, Giroud powered his way to the near post to meet Cazorla’s cross and direct a firm header past Ben Foster for his 22nd goal of a profitable campaign.
Wenger had spoken prior to the match about the need for his side to increase their threat from set pieces. This was a fine response.
West Brom needed at least a point to confirm their Premier League survival, but one half chance for Saido Berahino aside, they struggled to make any headway against a stubborn Arsenal backline.
Then, just after the half-hour mark, Podolski was set free by a delightful Ozil pass and cut the ball back for Cazorla on the edge of the area, but the Spaniard’s first-time effort was pushed wide by Foster.
That proved to be the last moment of note from a low-key first half, but one that the Gunners controlled without ever really needing to move through the gears.
Arsenal had not lost at Emirates Stadium in the Premier League since the opening day of the season, and started the second half set on securing their 13th win here in 19 matches.
But West Brom proved disciplined and determined opponents, making life difficult for Wenger’s side and offering a tangible threat on the counter. If the Gunners were to claim the three points, they would certainly have to work for them.
The introductions of Kim Kallstrom and Tomas Rosicky midway through the half injected some thrust to the midfield, and soon the game opened up.
In the space of five minutes, Craig Dawson looped a header over for the visitors, Ozil saw a close-range shot roll inches wide and Podolski struck the post.
But there was to be no introduction off the bench for Diaby and no further goals as the Gunners secured the win with an efficient performance.
With fourth place secure, thoughts will inevitably turn to the FA Cup final. But with one final Premier League test to navigate, against Norwich next Sunday, there is still work to be done before we can focus on Wembley.
Referee: Mike Jones
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