van Persie 26'
Baird 37' (og)
Arsenal defeated Fulham 4-0 this evening at the Emirates Stadium to secure third place in the Premier League and an automatic spot in the group stages of next season's UEFA Champions League.
It was probably always going to be a relaxed atmosphere today, the final EPL matchday not holding much importance for Fulham, as they have to travel to Germany before Wednesday's Europa League final. Indeed, as the match unfolded, Arsenal strolled around almost at will, easily dominating possession. When Fulham did manage to win the ball, Clint Dempsey was their only really threatening player (good to see for all the USA supporters out there).
Arsenal had chances early, and their persistence in attack was finally rewarded in the 21st minute as Mark Schwarzer's touch on a backpass was heavy. Andrei Arshavin stole in and swiped the ball, taking it to the touchline, ignoring the shouts of van Persie for a cutback, and slotting home off of John Pantsil.
Van Persie orchestrated much of the play today, fully resuming his role as the fulcrum of the Arsenal attack. He took passes well in the space in front of or in between the Fulham center halves, and he always threatened on crosses. His dogged play found its reward a few minutes after Arshavin's goal, as Walcott received a magnificent through ball and squared it to the Dutchman. His initial effort was well-saved onto the bar by Schwarzer, but a kind rebound allowed Robin to smash home from ten yards.
Arsenal continued to press their advantage both through the middle and from crosses, and their play forced a third goal ten minutes later when Chris Baird could not prevent himself from turning home a cross. Two minutes later, Walcott should have scored after some silly buildup play, three first-time passes putting him through on goal, only to smash the ball about six feet wide of the far post. Consistency in finishing and decisiveness remains an issue for Walcott, but most fan would argue that he has improved this year. Hopefully the best is yet to come.
The second half opened much as the first had, Arsenal dominating most of the possession. Dempsey had a decent shout for a penalty in the 66th minute as he tangled with Sol Campbell after a Stefano Okaka chipped pass broke for him in the area. The referee ignored his protests, fortunately for Arsenal, and such was the American's fury over the lack of a decision that he was booked for dissent. He also picked up a knock in the incident and came off for Fredrik Stoor. Hopefully he will be okay for Wednesday; it did not appear to be a serious problem.
Shortly thereafter at the other end, Emmanuel Eboué was brought down in the area for what looked to be a sure penalty. Instead, the referee booked him for diving, a harsh decision, as there was certainly contact from the defender which stopped Eboué's forward momentum and tripped him up. The Ivorian was set to plead his case to the referee, but Arshavin stepped in smartly, a 3-0 advantage soothing any ill feelings, no doubt.
Wenger introduced Henri Lansbury and Carlos Vela in the 78th minute. For the former, it was his Premier League debut, and it came in the most relaxed of circumstances. His touches and passes looked good, and he will no doubt feature in the Carling Cup next year, should he be available. For Vela, the openness of the game was a boon, recent performances being inadequate; in the 84th minute, he added Arsenal's fourth, chipping sweetly over a helpless Schwarzer from twelve yards.
By this point, Fulham had clearly conceded the match, and the final ten minutes played out with little incident. In truth, they looked to have their eyes on Wednesday's final, today's match more or less meaningless for them in terms of Premier League standing. Good luck to them on Wednesday in the final. For Arsenal's part, this victory combined with Burnley's fightback at Turf Moor over Spurs means that they finish the season five points above their rivals. All things considered, third place is a good result for the Gunners, but they will be left wondering what could have been this season with a bit more luck and a better record over their last nine matches.
Two other quick editorializings about today's match: firstly, the sarcastic cheers every time Fabianski touched the ball were very disappointing. He has not done very well this year, but surely this will not help. Secondly, the Emirates was half empty by the final whistle. Rain was threatening, and many of those who had left were Fulham fans, but still: this is the final match of the year, and the team is going to take their lap of appreciation, and everyone leaves? This is extremely disappointing to see from the perspective of someone who has never been to a match in London, and I'm sure all of the fans who are on the list for tickets who did not get to attend will be upset as well. Things have not gone the club's way this year, but to leave early when the team is going to show its appreciation for the supporters is not acceptable.