Arsenal’s frustrating season ended on an optimistic note with England under-21 international Theo Walcott underlining his potential with the goal that earned the Gunners a 1-0 win over Sunderland.
Walcott struck midway through the first-half, finishing off Gilberto’s pass to secure three points which ensured Arsenal, who led the title race by five points in February, finished only two points adrift of second-placed Chelsea.
Wasteful finishing was one of the factors in Arsenal’s slide out of contention for the title and this match would have been won much more comfortably if Emmanuel Adebayor and Gilberto had managed to take the gilt-edged chances that fell to them.
Instead, Sunderland kept up the pressure to the final minute of an exhausting season and might have claimed a point late on, when Roy O’Donovan went close and Michael Chopra had a good penalty shout turned down.
Adebayor had waltzed through the Sunderland defence after only seven minutes but was denied by the legs of goalkeeper Marton Fulop.
Sunderland were matching Arsenal for effort if not in terms of quality but it was nevertheless the visitors who took the lead with 24 minutes gone, Walcott running on to Gilberto’s precise pass before beating Fulop with a cool finish.
Grant Leadbitter sent a header over the bar ten minutes later but Walcott had the chance to double his tally five minutes before half-time when he poked Adebayor’s cross wide.
Gilberto’s chance came after referee Keith Stroud ruled that Dean Whitehead’s interception of a Walcott cross amounted to a back-pass and awarded Arsenal an indirect free-kick just yards from goal.
Adebayor tapped the ball to the Brazilian but his shot was fired high and wide of the target. The Togo striker then failed to connect with an inviting Walcott cross and Donovan should have made Arsenal pay for that miss when he dragged his shot wide with quarter of an hour left.
Fellow substitute Chopra was adamant he should have had a penalty after going to ground under a challenge from Alex Song, one of the players Arsene Wenger expects to play a bigger role in the first team next season.
Another prospect, midfielder Mark Randall, came off the bench and had a goal ruled off for offside before forcing a fine save from Fulop.
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