Arsenal cling to second place

Arsenal maintained their grip on second place and a direct entry into the Champions League proper with a 2-0 win away to West Brom that left Bryan Robson’s relegation-threatened team second from bottom in the Premiership.

In a hard-fought match, second-half goals from Robin van Persie and an extra-time strike from Edu wrapped up a win for Arsenal, who stay four points clear of FA Cup final opponents Manchester United with three games remaining.

West Brom, who like the rest of the bottom four have two matches left, stayed on 30 points—the same as basement side Norwich and one behind drop rivals Crystal Palace and Southampton.

With three teams going down, the Baggies desperately need a result away to United this weekend, where Robson was a hero as a player in the 1980s after moving to Old Trafford from West Brom.

“They made it very difficult for us to find an opening, but in the second half there was a bit more space and we scored a fantastic goal,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger told Sky Sports afterwards.

“The fact that we don’t concede goals at the moment helps give us the patience we need. We want to grow as a team and I feel we have achieved that. We lost the Championship just after the United game [when Sir Alex Ferguson’s side ended Arsenal’s record English top-flight run of 49 unbeaten games].

“We then made six points in six games and Chelsea made 16, and that made the difference.

“They [Chelsea] deserve all the congratulations, they were the most consistent ones, they were hungry for success.
It’s been close and now they made it.”

Looking ahead to next season, he added: “It will be different for everyone, every year has surprises; teams like Liverpool and Newcastle join in, it will be interesting.”

A downcast Robson said: “I think sometimes there’s no justice in the game.

“The effort they put in they deserved something out of the game, but we didn’t get any breaks. We had a lot of set plays when we looked dangerous and I think we did look threatening, you need a bit of a break and we didn’t get it.”

He added: “We’re relying on other people but we’ve got a fighting chance. There are still matches to be won.

“They [United] are going for second position and the Champions League is very important to Arsenal and Manchester United; I know we’ll get no favours.”

After a goalless first half—where West Brom looked happy enough to settle for a point against one of the best attacks in the division—Arsenal, without Thierry Henry, went ahead in the 66th minute when Van Persie, played in by strike partner Jose Reyes, shot low and past Russell Hoult’s right hand.

Five minutes later, Reyes should have wrapped up the points after rounding a sprawling Hoult, but only found a tame shot that Neil Clement cleared off the line.

Robson eventually brought on three strikers—Geoff Horsfield, Robert Earnshaw and former Arsenal favourite Nwankwo Kanu—for the final 10 minutes.

But he was frustrated in his ambition to get them on the field minutes earlier by an Arsenal move that saw them keep the ball for 43 straight passes.

And as the Baggies pressed forward for an equaliser, Arsenal scored again in the second minute of stoppage time when Edu, released by Dennis Bergkamp, beat Hoult one on one, the keeper getting a touch on the ball but unable to keep it out.

The result meant the Gunners had kept their 10th clean sheet in 11 games.

Another victory for Arsenal, over Liverpool on Saturday, will assure them of second place with one match of the season left.—Sapa-AFP

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