Arsenal 4 Aston Villa 0: The managers play down the battle for North London supremacy, insisting it is insignificant, but try telling that to the Arsenal supporters.
This emphatic victory, combined with Tottenham’s capitulation at Newcastle, means Arsene Wenger has never finished below the White Hart Lane side in his 20 years in charge.
It was 1995 when Tottenham last reigned supreme and although there is no trophy to show at stake for this parochial tussle, winning it clearly meant a lot to red fans in the capital, who celebrated Olivier Giroud’s first Premier League hat-trick with relish. To cap it all, club captain Mikel Arteta came off the bench with two minutes remaining to add the fourth on his final appearance for the club (though it goes down as a Mark Bunn own-goal), with the last kick of the season.
The more cynical Arsenal followers will argue it was still a season of missed opportunity, as second place to Leicester City in the Premier League table was not their aim at the outset and change is still required.
Some even claim Giroud’s 24 goals came against weak opposition.
To strengthen that title challenge is Wenger’s task this summer, for even he was not overjoyed last night, despite affording himself a few smiles at Tottenham’s expense.
Questioned on his unlikely local triumph, which also required an end-of-season Tottenham collapse, the French coach grinned: “It looked for many years that Tottenham would finish above us...
“We don’t start the season wanting to be above Tottenham, we want to win the league and there is a frustration that we didn’t.
“But the only target we could have before the game was to finish second and we achieved it. Our supporters had some satisfaction when, for a while, it looked like they wouldn’t.”
Most of the 60,007 sell-out crowd cheered Wenger at the end as well as Arteta and his fellow departing midfielder Tomas Rosicky long after the final whistle.
Premier League runners-up also means Arsenal have secured a 19th consecutive year of Champions League football, matching their highest finish for 11 years, the season after they won the title unbeaten.
Wenger said: “We are not happy finishing second, but there are 18 clubs who have finished below us and would want to be in our position. For a while we believed we could [win the league] but I always knew the second half of the season would be tough as we had many difficult away games and our position would depend on us as well as Leicester dropping points.
“Tottenham were in a better position than us, but we kept going until the end and we kept our togetherness. If we are not first we could be 10th or 12th, so it’s not right to say any other position is rubbish.”
Relegated Villa were, in theory, always only here to make up the numbers in a subdued end-of-season party which few thought would end in such scenes of celebration after a season in which Tottenham led the challenge to Leicester for so long.
But it is a marathon, not a sprint and Villa’s woeful defence duly played their part in helping Arsenal over the finish line. They left French forward Giroud unmarked to head in a Nacho Monreal cross inside five minutes and offered little resistance throughout.
News of Newcastle’s supremacy over Tottenham, however, only seemed to serve to make Arsenal more nervous than freer.
Alexis Sanchez was profligate and Jack Wilshere missed a sitter at the far post.
After the break, far from going on to dominate the match and playing with any freedom, Arsenal showed the lack of confidence that has been a hallmark of their season.
The buoyant mood of the Villa fans did not make it an easier as the demob-happy Midlanders celebrated every surge forward or corner like a goal.
Wenger looked far from happy on the bench too, seeming, from the obscured view of the press box, to shout at everyone and anyone in earshot.
The Arsenal coach withdrew a weary and ineffective Wilshere with 21 minutes to go and his replacement, Mohamed Elneny, squandered Arsenal’s next good chance with a lazy volley from the edge of the area.
With England manager Roy Hodgson here to watch him, Wilshere, 24, will discover today if his first start since the last day of last season will have impressed enough to earn a place in England’s provisional Euro 2016 squad. Theo Walcott, left out through injury yesterday, is also available for selection.
When news of a third Newcastle goal reached the Arsenal players, they finally stormed onto the attack knowing they had to win. Giroud completed his hat-trick with goals in the 78th and 80th minutes, celebrating with Arteta and Rosicky in the crowd.
Then came Arteta for the crowning glory, his shot going in off the crossbar and Bunn.
The players later formed a guard of honour to welcome Rosicky onto the pitch as the crowd chanted his name along with “Tottenham Hotspur, it’s happened again.”
Cech 6; Bellerin 6, Gabriel 6, Koscielny 5, Monreal 6; Coquelin 6, Cazorla 6 (Arteta 88, 6); Wilshere 6 (Elneny 69, 6), Ozil 6 (Campbell 88, 6), Sanchez 6; Giroud 7. Subs: Gibbs, Ospina, Ramsey, Iwobi.
ASTON VILLA (4-3-2-1):
Bunn 7; Lyden 6, Lescott 6 (Richards 61, 5), Toner 6, Cissokho 6; Sanchez 5, Westwood 6, Gana 5; Bacuna 5, Ayew 5; Sinclair 5. Subs: Guzan, Richards, Traore, Gil, Hepburn-Murphy, Gestede, Grealish.
Mark Clattenburg 7/10
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