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May 19, 2013

Arsenal seals Champions League spot

Arsenal qualified for the Champions League for the 16th straight season after edging Tottenham to fourth place in the Premier League.

Laurent Koscielny's 52nd-minute volley sealed an unconvincing 1-0 win for Arsenal at Newcastle, rendering Spurs' 1-0 victory over Sunderland -- courtesy of a late screamer from Gareth Bale -- meaningless.

"We celebrated a bit like we had won the championship, which was a bit weird considering the ambition at the start of the season," said Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, whose team won eight and drew two of its last 10 games of the campaign.

Chelsea finished third -- and claimed the last automatic Champions League spot -- by beating Everton 2-1 thanks to Fernando Torres' winner in Rafa Benitez's last game in charge of the Europa League champions.

Bale guaranteed an extremely tense final few minutes in the race for fourth between the fierce north London rivals by smashing a trademark long-range effort high into the net in the 88th minute at White Hart Lane, meaning Arsenal needed to hold onto its lead at St. James Park.

Arsenal winger Theo Walcott slid a shot against the post in injury time to keep Tottenham's hopes alive, but Newcastle couldn't find an equalizer.

"It was so tense," Walcott said. "We had to dig deep and our defense was so solid. We did our job and we are so happy."

Tottenham was third and seven points clear of Arsenal after winning the north London derby in March. But not even Bale's stream of match-winning goals in recent weeks could hold off Arsenal's end-of-season resurgence, just like last season.

"It is difficult to take. In the end we did what we had to, but Arsenal did their job well and go through," Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas said. "It is difficult at this moment."

To make matters worse for Spurs, failing to reach the Champions League will undoubtedly increase the speculation surrounding the future of Bale, who has been linked with many of the world's top teams after a brilliant season in which he won English football's Player of the Year award.

"We have missed out and it is another hard day to take," Tottenham defender Michael Dawson said. "We can't just look at today -- we put ourselves in this position. We hoped Arsenal would slip up but they didn't, unfortunately."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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