Premier League: Arsenal close in on Champions League place

Frank Dalleres
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ARSENAL manager Arsene Wenger has urged his team to clinch a Champions League spot for the 17th consecutive season against West Brom on Sunday after the Gunners last night tightened their grip on a top-four finish.

Fit-again record signing Mesut Ozil inspired Wenger’s men to a routine victory over flaccid Newcastle, scoring one and setting up another for Olivier Giroud after Laurent Koscielny had put the home side in front.

Victory stretched Arsenal’s advantage over their nearest Premier League rivals, Everton, to four points with two games to play, meaning they can secure their route to Europe’s elite competition by beating the Baggies at the Emirates Stadium.

“It’s a step forward. We need to make another one, but what’s important is to focus on our performances and game by game now they look convincing and show that we have potential to play very good football,” said Wenger.

“I’m long enough in the job to know to get over the line is always difficult. We have suffered enough this season in some periods to not be complacent. The pain we got reminds us to focus on doing the final job well. We are in a strong position now.”

A sixth consecutive top-flight defeat for the first time since 1987 saw both sets of fans unite to mock Alan Pardew, though the Newcastle boss was relieved to escape without getting “really harmed” -- an outcome he feared when 2-0 down at half-time.

Arsenal look a side reinvigorated by the return of Ozil’s trickery and Aaron Ramsey’s energy, though it was centre-back Koscielny who snuck in behind Mike Williamson to divert Santi Cazorla’s deep free-kick past Tim Krul on 26 minutes.

Krul saved brilliantly from a Lukas Podolski close-range header but was eventually beaten for a second time just before the break, and after two more smart stops from Olivier Giroud, the ball falling invitingly for Ozil to tap in his first league goal since 8 December.

Arsenal’s third encapsulated the renewed verve that has harvested three goals in each of their last three fixtures, and ensured they finish above north London rivals Tottenham for a 19th straight campaign.

On 66 minutes Ramsey released Ozil with a reverse pass into the inside left position and the German whipped an instant, pacey cross towards the near post where Giroud arrived to guide a point-blank header past Krul.