Arsenal players celebrate ending the season on a high note
By Ian Hughes
Arsenal crushed a weakened Fulham side to ensure they ended the season in third place in the Premier League.
The Gunners needed only a point to stay above Tottenham and they easily beat Fulham, who rested players ahead of Wednesday's Europa League final.
Andrey Arshavin punished an error by Mark Schwarzer to open the scoring and Robin van Persie slotted in the second.
Chris Baird turned Theo Walcott's cross into his own net and Carlos Vela sealed the win with a cheeky dinked chip.
It could have been more for Arsenal, who barely needed to hit top gear to secure the result that clinches automatic entry into the Champions League next season.
Not that any blame could be laid at Fulham's door after a remarkable season for the Cottagers in which they could still do what Arsenal failed to do and win silverware.
Hodgson praises 'brave' Fulham
Roy Hodgson's side face Atletico Madrid in midweek and it was inevitable key players would be rested ahead of the match in Hamburg.
The Fulham boss made eight changes in total, which indicated he was willing to sacrifice the chance to potentially finish ninth in the table, seemingly settling for 12th place - and close to £3m less in prize money.
However, should Fulham triumph on Wednesday surely none of that will matter.
Arsenal themselves might cast an envious glance Fulham's way after their season fell apart in recent weeks as they exited the Champions League and blew their title chances, making it five seasons without a trophy.
The Gunners' campaign would have ended on a very sour note had they relinquished third place to bitter-rivals Tottenham, and from the start they appeared determined not to let that happen.
Van Persie quickly brought out the best in Schwarzer, who produced a stunning save to tip away a shot headed for the top corner and Samir Nasri sent a low shot narrowly wide of the post.
After Sol Campbell almost got on the end of a Van Persie free-kick and Arshavin tested Schwarzer, it seemed a matter of time before the hosts got the opener.
Wenger pleased to finish difficult season on a high
And it came when Schwarzer miscontrolled a backpass, allowing Arshavin to nick the ball, round the Australian and slot in from a tight angle.
It was soon 2-0 when Walcott squared for Van Persie, who stroked in after Schwarzer had deflected his first shot on to the bar but was unlucky to see it bounce back to the striker.
Aside from the goal, Van Persie's influence was obvious - his creativity, vision and touch were top class - and Arsenal may well reflect on how the season may have turned out had the Dutchman not been injured for most of it.
Arsenal got their third when Walcott sent in a low cross from the right, Emmanuel Eboue flicked it on and Baird could only turn the ball into his own net.
Walcott should have added another when clean though on goal, but he dragged his shot wide - not the impression he would want to make given that England boss Fabio Capello names his 30-man provisional World Cup squad this week.
At the end of the half, Fulham had two chances from rare attacks but Stefano Okaka fell backwards when he tried to get a shot away and Erik Nevland headed over the bar.
After the interval the pace dropped, but Arsenal still carved out chances as Fulham sat back.
Van Persie was denied by a stunning reaction save from Schwarzer at close range and the striker hit the foot of post from the rebound.
Fulham were let off again when Van Persie rifled over after cutting in from the right.
But Arsene Wenger's men were not to be denied a fourth goal and it came when substitute Vela latched on to a pass by Nasri and finished with a classy effort.
90:00+2:01 Strike comes in from Robin van Persie from the free kick.
90:00+2:01 Booking Stephen Kelly goes into the referee's book for unsporting behaviour.
90:00+1:34 The referee blows for offside. Free kick taken by Chris Baird.
90:00+1:29 Unfair challenge on Robin van Persie by Stephen Kelly results in a free kick.
Correction - 90:00+0:22 The assistant referee flags for offside against Emmanuel Eboue. Mark Schwarzer restarts play with the free kick.
90:00+0:22 The referee blows for offside against Emmanuel Eboue. Indirect free kick taken by Mark Schwarzer.
88:32 Unfair challenge on Robin van Persie by Chris Smalling results in a free kick. Free kick taken by Lukasz Fabianski.
87:47 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on David Elm by Vassiriki Diaby. Mark Schwarzer takes the free kick.
87:11 David Elm challenges Johan Djourou unfairly and gives away a free kick. Free kick taken by Emmanuel Eboue.
83:06 Assist on the goal came from Samir Nasri.
83:06 GOAL - Carlos Alberto Vela:Arsenal 4 - 0 Fulham Carlos Alberto Vela gets on the score sheet with a goal from deep inside the penalty box to the bottom right corner of the
goal. Arsenal 4-0 Fulham.
82:51 Johan Djourou concedes a free kick for a foul on Stefano Okaka. Direct free kick taken by Stephen Kelly.
82:23 Henri Lansbury takes a shot. Blocked by Chris Smalling.
81:58 Short corner taken by Carlos Alberto Vela.
Correction - 78:43 Robin van Persie has an effort at goal from close in which goes wide right of the goal.
78:43 Robin van Persie has an effort at goal from close range which goes wide right of the target.
76:07 Lukasz Fabianski restarts play with the free kick.
76:07 Substitution (Arsenal) makes a substitution, with Carlos Alberto Vela coming on for Andrey Arshavin.
76:07 Substitution Henri Lansbury joins the action as a substitute, replacing Theo Walcott.
76:07 Johan Djourou fouled by Stefano Okaka, the ref awards a free kick.
74:33 Theo Walcott challenges Erik Nevland unfairly and gives away a free kick. Free kick taken by Mark Schwarzer.
73:25 Robin van Persie is ruled offside. Mark Schwarzer takes the indirect free kick.
70:00 Chris Smalling takes a shot. Chris Baird takes a shot. Sol Campbell gets a block in. Inswinging corner taken by Jonathan Greening
from the left by-line played to the near post, Close range headed effort by Erik Nevland clears the crossbar.
68:47 Nicky Shorey delivers the ball from the free kick left-footed from right wing, Emmanuel Eboue manages to make a clearance.
68:47 Booking Booking for Lukasz Fabianski for unsporting behaviour.
68:35 Lukasz Fabianski is penalised for handball and concedes a free kick.
67:46 Mark Schwarzer restarts play with the free kick.
67:05 Booking Emmanuel Eboue goes into the book for unsporting behaviour.
66:06 Substitution Fredrik Stoor on for Clinton Dempsey.
65:44 Booking Clinton Dempsey receives a yellow card.
64:32 Andrey Arshavin challenges Chris Baird unfairly and gives away a free kick. Free kick taken by Mark Schwarzer.
62:50 David Elm challenges Johan Djourou unfairly and gives away a free kick. Johan Djourou takes the direct free kick.
61:36 Substitution Johan Djourou joins the action as a substitute, replacing Mikael Silvestre.
60:22 Robin van Persie takes a shot. Save by Mark Schwarzer.
58:44 Stefano Okaka is caught offside. Mikael Silvestre takes the indirect free kick.
56:34 Mark Schwarzer takes the direct free kick.
56:34 Substitution Stephen Kelly joins the action as a substitute, replacing John Pantsil.
56:34 Andrey Arshavin gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on John Pantsil.
53:49 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Gael Clichy by Stefano Okaka. Lukasz Fabianski takes the direct free kick.
50:57 Jonathan Greening takes a inswinging corner to the near post, Lukasz Fabianski makes a save.
Correction - 49:09 Robin van Persie takes a shot. Mark Schwarzer makes a save. Robin van Persie has an effort at goal from close in that hits
49:09 Robin van Persie takes a shot. Mark Schwarzer makes a save. Robin van Persie takes a shot. Save made by Mark Schwarzer.
48:18 The referee blows for offside. Indirect free kick taken by Lukasz Fabianski.
47:50 Gael Clichy concedes a free kick for a foul on Erik Nevland. Mark Schwarzer restarts play with the free kick.
46:51 Robin van Persie has an effort from just inside the box that misses to the left of the target.
46:25 Robin van Persie takes a inswinging corner.
45:32 David Elm is flagged offside by the assistant referee. Indirect free kick taken by Lukasz Fabianski.
45:01 The game restarts for the second half.
45:01 Substitution Bjorn Helge Riise goes off and David Elm comes on.
45:00+2:06 The referee blows for half time.
Correction - 45:00+0:51 Erik Nevland has a header from close range and clears the crossbar.
45:00+0:51 Erik Nevland has a header from inside the six-yard box and clears the crossbar.
44:59 Emmanuel Eboue fouled by Chris Baird, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick taken by Emmanuel Eboue.
42:50 Samir Nasri takes a inswinging corner from the left by-line played to the near post, save by Mark Schwarzer.
42:36 Robin van Persie takes a shot. Jonathan Greening gets a block in.
42:04 Stefano Okaka takes a shot. Save by Lukasz Fabianski.
39:03 Theo Walcott has an effort at goal from close in which goes wide of the left-hand upright.
36:49 Assist by Emmanuel Eboue.
36:49 GOAL - Chris Baird:Arsenal 3 - 0 Fulham Chris Baird puts the ball into his own goal. Arsenal 3-0 Fulham.
34:52 The referee blows for offside against Theo Walcott. Mark Schwarzer takes the indirect free kick.
32:04 Free kick awarded for a foul by Vassiriki Diaby on Stefano Okaka. Mark Schwarzer takes the free kick.
27:52 Short corner taken by Robin van Persie.
26:53 Andrey Arshavin challenges Clinton Dempsey unfairly and gives away a free kick. Free kick taken by Jonathan Greening.
25:43 GOAL - Robin van Persie:Arsenal 2 - 0 Fulham A goal is scored by Robin van Persie from close range low into the middle of the goal. Arsenal 2-0 Fulham.
Correction - 25:42 Robin van Persie takes a shot. Save made by Mark Schwarzer.
25:42 Robin van Persie takes a shot. Mark Schwarzer makes a save.
24:09 Vassiriki Diaby challenges Erik Nevland unfairly and gives away a free kick. Free kick taken by Jonathan Greening.
20:02 GOAL - Andrey Arshavin:Arsenal 1 - 0 Fulham Goal scored by Andrey Arshavin from close range to the bottom left corner of the goal. Arsenal 1-0 Fulham.
18:57 Andrey Arshavin takes a shot. Nicky Shorey gets a block in.
17:55 Bacary Sagna challenges Stefano Okaka unfairly and gives away a free kick. The free kick is swung in right-footed by Jonathan
Greening, Lukasz Fabianski makes a save.
17:21 The official flags Robin van Persie offside. Indirect free kick taken by Mark Schwarzer.
15:25 Free kick awarded for a foul by Kagisho Dikgacoi on Theo Walcott. Robin van Persie crosses the ball from the free kick left-footed
from right channel, Erik Nevland manages to make a clearance.
13:07 Samir Nasri produces a left-footed shot from outside the penalty box and misses right.
11:32 The official flags Theo Walcott offside. Indirect free kick taken by Nicky Shorey.
9:24 The offside flag is raised against Stefano Okaka. Bacary Sagna takes the free kick.
8:18 Andrey Arshavin takes a short corner.
7:42 Clinton Dempsey challenges Bacary Sagna unfairly and gives away a free kick. The free kick is delivered left-footed by Robin
van Persie from right wing, Mark Schwarzer makes a save.
5:51 Unfair challenge on Stefano Okaka by Bacary Sagna results in a free kick. Bjorn Helge Riise crosses the ball from the free
kick right-footed from left channel.
5:02 Jonathan Greening concedes a free kick for a foul on Vassiriki Diaby. Emmanuel Eboue restarts play with the free kick.
2:55 Andrey Arshavin takes a shot. Blocked by Bjorn Helge Riise.
0:00 The match begins.
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