Arsenal left it late to take all three points against Crystal Palace, their 3-1 win maintaining their hopes for European qualification heading into the final day.
Following the news this week that Palace boss Roy Hodgson is set to call time on his illustrious managerial career at the end of the season, the 73-year-old was rightly given a warm send-off from the returning home support and both sets of players, in what is his final game in charge of the club at Selhurst Park.
Looking to spoil the party, Arsenal made a bright start to the match, yet couldn’t find a way through a stubborn home backline, while the in-form Christian Benteke squandered an excellent chance to head his side in front at the other end.
In an entertaining and end to end first-half, the breakthrough finally came courtesy of Nicolas Pepe, the Ivorian rounding off an excellent team move to finish at the back post, following superb link-up play down the left from Bukayo Saka and Kieran Tierney.
Leading at the break, Mikel Arteta’s men struggled to really get going after the interval, as the Eagles found a way back into the match, Benteke making up for his earlier miss to power a header home past Bernd Leno for his fourth goal in as many games.
Despite knowing only a win could keep their faint European hopes alive, the visitors failed to show any real urgency, their opponents looking the more likely to snatch three points through the ever-dangerous Wilfried Zaha.
In stoppage time, however, Arsenal’s quality finally come to the fore. Substitute Gabriel Martinelli scrambed home after a delightful dinked cross from on-loan midfielder Martin Odegaard, before Pepe added his second of the night, the winger cutting in off the right and firing home into the bottom corner.
What. A. Run. Pepe! 👀 pic.twitter.com/jV4EFHqfhS
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) May 19, 2021
That quick-fire double ensured a fourth successive league win for the north London club, Arteta admitting that while his side weren’t at their best, particularly in the second-half, they did enough to secure the victory.
“We found a way to win,” he told BBC Sport. “For a big part of the game we were in total control and playing the way we wanted to play.
“Once we conceded we lost control and started to give balls away and started to panic. We allowed them to play long balls, corners, free-kicks and against Palace that’s a dangerous game. We were in trouble.
“We improved with our chances and Gabby managed to score a very important goal.
“You always have hope. We took risks with our set-up.”
Arsenal have endured a wretched campaign, though still have a faint chance of securing a spot in next season’s maiden Europa Conference League.
The Gunners need a win against Brighton on the last day, and hope that they better the results of Everton and Spurs – who face Man City and Leicester respectively – Arteta’s side having picked up the third-most points in the league since Boxing Day despite their lowly league position.
Is history repeating itself for Leicester?
Can Arsenal leapfrog Everton and Spurs to claim a European spot?
It’s going to be an interesting final day! pic.twitter.com/3naSTYkE1P
— The Football Faithful (@FootyFaithfuI) May 19, 2021
“We will keep fighting right up to the last day, if someone said in November or December [that we could qualify for Europe] it looked impossible but we’ve been on a strong run these past six months and we deserve a chance to be there on the final day.”
The former Manchester City assistant was also full of praise for counterpart Roy Hodgson, who was given a superb reception in what was his final home match as manager at the end of a lengthy career in the dugout.
“Very emotional. I thought it was great to have fans on his day because he deserves what happened before and right now [fans’ noise while the interview was happening]. An incredible achievement. He’s someone to try to emulate because what he’s done in football is remarkable.”