Arsenal held off Tottenham to claim fourth place and Champions League football for next season with a 1-0 win at Newcastle United on the final day of the Premier League campaign.
Laurent Koscielny scored the crucial winner with an acrobatic volley after 52 minutes as Tottenham's 1-0 win over Sunderland thanks to a late strike from Gareth Bale went unrewarded.
Arsenal's win ensured they avoided the disappointment of finishing behind their great rivals for the first time since 1995 and an impressive end to an otherwise difficult campaign means they enter the Champions League at the final qualifying stage next season.
The Gunners have benefited from good fortune twice in recent seasons to keep Spurs at bay - a dodgy lasagne in 2006; a dodgy performance from Marton Fulop last season - but this felt rather more merited as Koscielny proved inspirational at both ends for Arsene Wenger's side.
The Arsenal manager was able to name Mikel Arteta in his midfield after some intensive work on a calf injury sustained in Tuesday's win over Wigan. For Newcastle, Steven Taylor returned from illness while Steve Harper made his final appearance for the club after 20 years on Tyneside.
Looking to end a difficult season in positive fashion, Newcastle started impressively and could have taken the lead after only seven minutes when Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa got free of Per Mertesacker to the left of the box and cut the ball back for Papiss Cisse, who rifled an effort just over the bar.
Only some fine defending from Koscielny prevented Cisse from converting from a Yoan Gouffran cross soon after, while Gouffran had a sight of goal himself when dragging a low effort wide from 25 yards.
Arsenal, who were forced to replace Arteta with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on 28 minutes after his calf injury flared up, bizarrely lacked any hint of urgency and were restricted to a handful of half-chances in the first 45 minutes: Koscielny and Mertesacker both got headers to set-pieces from Santi Cazorla while the Spaniard wasted a decent opportunity from 20 yards as he lifted the ball over the bar.
Wenger coaxed an improved performance from his side in the second half though, with Walcott immediately testing Steve Harper with an angled effort after a poor clearance from the departing Newcastle keeper gave Arsenal possession within a minute of the restart.
After 52 minutes they edged in front. Walcott supplied a corner from the right and after Mertesacker's head sent the ball spinning into the air, Koscielny was fortunate to see it drop into his path, the defender firing home a close-range volley on the turn.
Despite false reports of an equaliser that sent Spurs fans into premature celebrations at White Hart Lane, Newcastle were struggling to create chances as their season wound down in a relatively underwhelming manner.
Bale's late stunner for Spurs sent panic through the Arsenal fans - a situation not helped when Walcott managed to strike the base of the post after weaving his way through the home defence - but once again the white half of North London was left frustrated as Arsenal clung on for the win.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal) - A huge performance at both ends of the pitch from the Frenchman, as he scored the winner and defended admirably throughout.
NEWCASTLE: Harper 6, Debuchy 6, Coloccini 7, Taylor 6, Yanga-Mbiwa 7, Cabaye 6, Tiote 6, Gutierrez 5, Ben Arfa 6, Gouffran 5, Cisse 6. Subs: Anita 6, Marveaux 6, Campbell N/A.
ARSENAL: Szczesny 6, Sagna 6, Mertesacker 7, Koscielny 9, Gibbs 7, Arteta 6, Ramsey 6, Walcott 6, Cazorla 7, Rosicky 7, Podolski 5. Subs: Oxlade-Chamberlain 6, Giroud 6, Wilshere N/A.