Premier League – Arsenal end with low-key win
Theo Walcott scored the only goal at the Stadium of Light as Arsenal signed off for the season with a 1-0 against Sunderland.
The youngster struck the winner from 25 yards out midway through the first-half in a match which saw both managers ring the changes in their respective line-ups.
Sunderland‘s team selection may have given some clues as to which players Roy Keane has threatened to pay off in order to get them out of the club, as last summer’s signings Kieran Richardson and Paul McShane were left out of the 16-man squad. There was no sign of strikers Daryl Murphy or Anthony Stokes either.
There was another surprise in Sunderland’s team selection, with one of Keane’s so-called “untouchables”, goalkeeper Craig Gordon, left on the bench. That enabled Marton Fulop to start what may well be his final appearance for the Wearsiders.
Arsene Wenger rested virtually all of the Arsenal regulars expected to go to Euro 2008 this summer. There was no farewell appearance for the AC Milan-bound midfielder Mathieu Flamini, while Abou Diaby, Cesc Fabregas, William Gallas and Robin Van Persie all sat out, as did Kolo Toure.
For so much of the season it seemed that Arsenal would be competing for the league title on this final day of the season, but instead they suffered the ignominy of having to play this largely inconsequential last-day fixture.
After that poor start, Arsenal came back into things as Adebayor and Walcott saw shots well saved by Fulop in the opening 20 minutes.
And Walcott scored with a long-range effort on 24 minutes after being fed in the right channel by Gilberto.
Walcott then had a glorious chance to double his tally with an opening carved out by Adebayor five minutes before the break. But with the goal gaping, the ex-Southampton player fired wide from six yards.
Sunderland boss Keane tried to change things at the break, as he took off his other supposed “untouchable” Kenwyne Jones in favour of Roy O’Donovan. The Irishman only took a few minutes to get involved in the action, as he headed a Danny Collins cross over.
Arsenal were presented with a great chance on the hour mark, as skipper Dean Whitehead‘s passback to Fulop was penalised by referee Keith Stroud, giving the Gunners an indirect free-kick from the edge of the Sunderland six-yard box. Adebayor teed up Gilberto from the set piece, but the Brazilian powered his shot wide.
The match petered out in the last quarter after a flurry of substitutions. One of Arsenal’s replacements, youth product Mark Randall, almost got his name on the scoresheet in the final moments, but his well-struck strike was parried by Fabianski.
Arsenal nevertheless did enough to secure their 24th win of a season which has seen them collect a total of 83 points. In seasons gone by, that tally would have been enough to secure the title, but this time around it was only good enough for third place.
Likewise, Sunderland’s final total of 39 points would have seen them relegated in many past seasons, but this campaign it was enough for a respectable 15th place finish.
Ben Phillips / Eurosport