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Arsenal secured their place in next season's UEFA Champions League play-offs with a 1-0 win over Newcastle United. Laurent Koscielny proved to be the hero for the Gunners as he fired acrobatically past Steve Harper from close range after latching on to a header from Theo Walcott's free-kick to book Arsene Wenger’s side's place in Europe's elite club competition next term.
That proved to be enough for the visitors as they held off a spirited fightback from Alan Pardew’s side to claim the three points, which were crucial due to the fact that Tottenham Hotspur, a point behind their north London rivals, at the start of the day snatched a late win in their final match against Sunderland.
At St James' Park, Arsenal made the better start to the game, but it was the hosts who had the first clear chance, Papiss Cisse firing over after latching on to a low cross from Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa. Arsenal had their first opportunity as Koscielny headed wide from a corner at the near post but their opponents displayed good spirit, and the visitors' dominance soon faded, as Cisse and Yoan Gouffran both passed up half-chances.
Wenger's men suffered a blow midway through the first half when Mikel Arteta was forced off with a calf problem to be replaced by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and the contest developed into something of a war of attrition thereafter, with both sides enjoying spells of possession without creating any real goalscoring opportunities before the interval.
Arsenal, though, could have been ahead just a minute into the second period, Harper making a strong save from Walcott after Newcastle had given the ball away in their own half and that chance proved to be a pointer to Arsenal's opener, as Koscielny latched on to Lukas Podolski's flick-on from Walcott's right-wing free-kick after 52 minutes to volley home.
Pardew's charges were not deterred by falling behind and continued to create chances, with Gouffran going closest as he failed to connect with a near-post ball from Mathieu Debuchy before Hatem Ben Arfa fired wide from distance.
Arsenal held out for the remainder of the second half, but, with news filtering through that Tottenham had gone ahead in their match, could have settled their nerves when Walcott broke free to hit a post late on. Ultimately, that miss proved inconsequential though, as Wenger's side sealed their narrow victory to continue the French manager's streak of ensuring UEFA Champions League football in every year of his tenure.
Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew: "It was the depth, really, and quality we need to improve on. But next year, we haven't got that pressure and we can go week to week in this Premier League. But we are not going to be foolish enough to think that we don't have a couple of issues to sort out in the team – not major issues, but certainly one or two players to add to offer us a different look."
"I'm pretty confident I'll be the manager here. I love being the manager and I will be speaking to [owner] Mike [Ashley] and [managing director] Derek [Llambias] this week to make sure we get a response and the right reaction."
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: “We knew before the game that we had to win and any other result could kick us out of the potential Champions League group stage. We were right because Tottenham and Chelsea won and we had the big disadvantage to play away from home. I'm happy as well because the exceptional attitude and determination of this group of players has been rewarded. They continued to believe when we were seven points behind Tottenham in mid-March. [They knew] that we had no room for error anymore and you could never see any sign of giving in. That's why the exceptional mental attitude of the players has been rewarded.
“Today it was a bit of a game against the nerves [as well as] against Newcastle and I felt that sometimes the nerves player as big a part as Newcastle. We were in control. They had an initial chance with Cisse. After that, in the second half I don't think they had a chance. We were in control but couldn't kill the game off. That's why it was nervy until the end.”