Olivier Giroud's 16th Barclays Premier League goal of the season sealed a 1-0 victory for Arsenal over West Bromwich Albion at Emirates Stadium.
The Frenchman met Santi Cazorla's left-wing corner with a powerful downward header in the 14th minute, ensuring Arsene Wenger's men picked up their fourth league win in a row. Everton's 3-2 defeat by Manchester City on Saturday meant Arsenal were assured of a UEFA Champions League berth for a 17th successive campaign.
West Brom went into the match knowing they had likely done enough to secure safety, with 18th-placed Norwich City facing two difficult fixtures, both of which they need to win. Lukas Podolski did strike a post for Arsenal in the second half, but one goal proved enough as West Brom struggled to carve out opportunities.
Arsenal hit the front just before the quarter-hour mark thanks to Giroud's firm header. After Cazorla had seen his shot deflected over the bar by Youssouf Mulumbu, the Spaniard curled the resulting corner in from the left and Giroud got the better of Craig Dawson to plant a well-directed header into the net from six yards.
Graham Dorrans stung the palms of Wojciech Szczesny with a rasping drive in the 32nd minute, while Saido Berahino blasted a shot narrowly over a minute later. The hosts' response was immediate, Cazorla bringing a smart save out of Ben Foster after running onto Podolski's cut-back.
Mathieu Flamini, back in the side in place of the rested Aaron Ramsey, hit a tame effort straight at Foster from the edge of the box as Arsenal ended the first period in the ascendancy.
In a quiet second half, Dawson headed over the bar from a corner in the 72nd minute before dragging a speculative effort well wide of goal from 30 yards shortly afterwards.
Mesut Ozil, quiet for much of the match, stabbed narrowly wide of goal after getting on the end of Giroud's flick as Arsenal looked to put the game to bed. Podolski's mis-hit shot rebounded back off a post and into the arms of a grateful Foster, but it mattered little.
While Arsenal's title hopes faded some time ago, the club can at least take some consolation from reaching 76 points, their highest tally in the Barclays Premier League since the 2007/08 season.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: "It did the job, maybe with a bit less drive than we have had in recent games as subconsciously we knew we are secure in the top-four, but we have 76 points and we want to get 79 - we want to get the maximum and win every game.
"West Brom is a good side and they played well and you can see the confidence plays a part and if they were in a more secure position they would be much more dangerous."
“We want more, as we were not sure to be in the top-four but we were 128 days top of the league so it is a bit of frustration too - but it has been tight as we are on 76 and the top of the table on 80 so there is frustration as you think what could have been. He [Ramsey] should be ready for Norwich hopefully, it was only a small muscular tightness but I didn’t want to take a gamble."
West Brom head coach Pepe Mel: "We need an extra point, we have two matches and one point to get. Now our only focus is on Sunderland. The players are very good professionals and every day and every week work on the pitch and there is a good atmosphere.
"After the Stoke City game we'll have a meeting. Then we'll decide whether or not I'm going to be at West Brom next season. The really important thing is the club know what I feel.
"I will have a meeting with the chairman and I'll express what I want in order for me to continue. I want to keep West Brom up in the Premier League and I can tell you now I'd be extremely happy to be at West Brom next season. The supporters are the best, they've been very kind with me. This is why I'd be very happy if we were to continue together."
|11 May 2014||v Norwich (A)|
|21 Dec 2014||v Liverpool (A)|
|26 Dec 2014||v Arsenal (H)|
|28 Dec 2014||v West Ham (A)|
|01 Jan 2015||v Southampton (A)|
|11 Jan 2015||v Arsenal (H)|