MANCHESTER, England — Arsenal relied on a late own-goal to draw 1-1 at Manchester United in the Premier League on Sunday and stay in control of the race for automatic qualification for the Champions League.
A cross by Theo Walcott in the 82nd minute deflected off the outstretched boot of United substitute Tyler Blackett and looped over wrong-footed goalkeeper Victor Valdes, who had just come on for his debut.
Ander Herrera gave United the lead in the 30th when he met Ashley Young's cross with a side-footed volley, but the hosts were pinned back for much of the second half at Old Trafford.
Arsenal stayed third, two points ahead of United, and will secure a finish in at least that position by beating Sunderland in its game in hand on Wednesday. The last round of the Premier League is on Sunday.
"It takes the pressure off during the holidays and during the preparation," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said about the likelihood of his team finishing third. "We have always that in mind when you prepare (for the new season) and it will be great when we do it. But it is still to do."
Both Arsenal and United are already guaranteed top-four finishes, but United is likely now to need to go through qualifying to reach the lucrative group stage of Europe's top competition — and that could mean a match against the likes of Valencia, Monaco or Shakhtar Donetsk. To definitely avoid that prospect, Louis van Gaal's team must beat Hull away in its final game and hope Arsenal loses its last two, which are both at home.
Arsenal is still without a win at Old Trafford in the league since 2006, but will be pleased by its second-half performance after a poor first 45 minutes when the team failed to take a single shot. That hasn't happened in a league game for Arsenal since November 2004.
"I think the difference between (league champion) Chelsea and Manchester United at this moment is that they can finish a game. They can kill the game," United manager Louis van Gaal said. "That is the mentality we have to improve."
There was little between the sides early on and it needed a moment of quality from Young to break the deadlock. The winger was United's most dangerous attacking outlet and he sent over a superb cross which was met with a volley by Herrera inside the near post.
United goalkeeper David de Gea, who hobbled off with a right hamstring injury in the 74th to be replaced by Valdes, was called upon for the first time when he kept out a close-range poke by Olivier Giroud in the 63rd.
By that time, Radamel Falcao had been substituted — and a little wave to the United crowd as he made his way to the dugout suggested this could be the last Old Trafford sees of him. The Colombia striker is on loan from French club Monaco and has scored four goals in 28 games — and not since Jan. 31.
Arsenal continued to press and it needed a timely intervention from Marcos Rojo to deny Aaron Ramsey, who had lobbed the ball past De Gea toward an open goal.
That was De Gea's last meaningful action. Like Falcao, De Gea's future at United is in question amid interest from Real Madrid and he could also have played his last match at Old Trafford.
Valdes came on to applause and had only touched the ball a few times when he had to pick it out of the net after Blackett's unfortunate deflection. The goal makes Arsenal big favorite for third and the team could yet catch Manchester City, which is five points ahead in second having played a game more.