Laurent Koscielny was the hero for Arsenal as he scored the crucial goal to beat Newcastle United and help his team finish fourth in the Premier League, and qualify for the UEFA Champions League.
Arsenal will be in the Champions League for a 16th successive year after Laurent Koscielny’s strike secured a priceless 1-0 win at Newcastle on Sunday.
Arsene Wenger’s team looked likely to miss out on a lucrative top four finish in the Premier League when they were seven points adrift of north London rivals Tottenham with only 10 games to play.
But the Gunners’ unblemished record of qualifying for Europe’s elite club competition under Wenger was extended thanks to Koscielny’s goal early in the second half at St James’ Park.
It brought Arsenal their fifth successive away win and maintained their excellent form in the second half of the season, a period when they have picked up more points than any team in the top flight.
There was an extra edge to Arsenal’s celebrations as their success came at the expense of Tottenham, who finished one point behind the Gunners in fifth place.
Newcastle’s third successive home defeat was a disappointment for a crowd of 52,354. But, following the victory at QPR that confirmed their Premier League status, the main focus for Newcastle was the final game of Steve Harper, the goalkeeper who has spent two decades at the club.
Captain for the day and wearing the No.37 jersey, Harper was applauded by the fans before and after the match and received a remarkable standing ovation in the 37th minute.
In truth, Harper must have expected a much more hectic exit because the odds were always loaded against Newcastle in view of Arsenal’s excellent form in recent weeks.
They were unbeaten in their previous nine games and the confidence engendered by that run was soon obvious.
Newcastle were outnumbered and outmanoeuvred in midfield where Santi Cazorla, Thomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey prospered with the security of Mikel Arteta behind them.
But, for all their possession, Arsenal created few tests for Harper in the opening stages, although Koscielny did head narrowly wide from a 12th minute corner.
Arsenal were forced to alter their midfield shape in the 28th minute when Arteta was injured and replaced by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Ramsey was given a more defensive role but Arsenal retained their midfield edge and should have gone ahead in the 31st minute.
Cazorla was given time and space on the edge of the area to meet a cross from Kieran Gibbs, but his shot lacked conviction.
Newcastle’s more direct style, allied to the trickery of Hatem Ben Arfa, brought another chance which the French international failed to steer under the bar.
Arsenal required only 30 seconds of the second-half to carve out a better opportunity than they had created in the entire opening 45 minutes.
Ramsey seized on a poor clearance by Harper to send Theo Walcott clear, but Harper made amends with a low save, although he was fortunate that no Arsenal player was closing in on the rebound.
If Arsenal’s followers expected it to herald a more imaginative and aggressive second-half performance, they were quickly proved right as Wenger’s team finally broke through in the 52nd minute.
Walcott’s free-kick was won by Lukas Podolski and fell perfectly for French defender Koscielny to turn and volley in via Harper’s head.
Newcastle’s earlier attacking instincts had faded by now and their prospects were further damaged by an injury to Yohan Cabaye, who went off after only 57 minutes.
Arsenal, once notorious for their ability to grind out 1-0 wins, seemed content with that scoreline once again, although Oxlade-Chamberlain did threaten with a long-range effort in the 70th minute.
Ben Arfa remained Newcastle’s best hope of a reply but his final shot of the match was wayward in the 70th minute.
It meant Arsenal were able to cruise to a vital victory without any late scares and it would have been more convincing if Walcott had taken a glorious chance in stoppage-time instead of hitting the post.